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737 Max

Senate Frustrated by “Stonewalling” Of FAA Safety Policies

Senate Frustrated by “Stonewalling” Of FAA Safety Policies
Joe Cortez

A Senate committee expressed their direct frustration with the Federal Aviation Administration over their handling of the Boeing 737 MAX situation. During a committee hearing, the group scrutinized the agency on the handling of the incident both before and after two fatal accidents.

After the introduction of a Senate bill demanding increased scrutiny of aircraft certification, Congress called on both the director of the Federal Aviation Administration and a father who lost a daughter in an air crash to testify. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation heard from the current FAA leader Stephen M. Dickson and Michael Stumo, who lost his child aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

FAA Has “Serious Problems to Address”

During his opening statement, committee chair Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) presented a scathing argument against the FAA and their airworthiness approval process, specifically in regards to the Boeing 737 MAX. The legislator noted that throughout their year-long investigative process, the committee only received full answers to 10 percent of their requests, and partial answers to a remaining 30 percent of open queries. Wicker called the relationship “Adversarial on the part of the FAA,” and blamed the FAA administrator for the problems.

“It’s increasingly clear from our investigation that the FAA has a number of serious problems to address,” Wicker noted in his opening remarks. “I have to express my profound frustration with the agency’s lack of responsiveness to most of my requests, dating back to last April, for documents that stem from whistleblower disclosures.”

In testimony sent before the hearing, the FAA director noted that there were several steps the agency needed to take before the 737 MAX could fly once more. This included flight testing by the international Joint Operations Evaluation Board and a report from the Flight Standardization Board, leading to an air worthiness directive.

“Beyond the 737 MAX, the FAA is committed to addressing issues regarding aircraft certification processes and aviation safety generally, not only in the United States, but internationally as well,” Dickson noted in his testimony. “Without safety as a foundation, we cannot have a vibrant aviation industry in any country, much less between countries.”

During questioning, Dickson rallied against claims that the FAA have not aided the committee in their investigation. Instead, the head of the FAA noted that they were facing investigation on multiple fronts, and were attempting to satisfy all stakeholders.

“I believe it’s inaccurate to call to portray the agency as unresponsive,” Dickson said We’ve provided responses in the seven major subject areas…There is still ongoing work, and I would just point out that we have a number of investigations under way that we are already supporting.”

Ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) was much more direct about concerns over FAA oversight. During her questioning session, the senator demanded direct answers on the approval process and if the FAA should directly appoint members of the Type Certification Organizational Designation Authorization program.

“I don’t want to be stonewalled here,” Cantwell asked. “Do you believe the FAA should retain and appoint these individuals and oversee them in the process – yes or no?”

“We certainly approve their qualifications and their background,” Dickson responded. “Their individual selection is not something that I believe would add to the safety of the process, but it is something we are anxious to work with the committee on, and see if we can work that in.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was equally blistering towards Dickson, echoing accusations of “stonewalling” the committee’s work. During his questioning time, Cruz asked if Boeing outright lied to the FAA, noted that nobody at the administration was fired or disciplined over the 737 MAX certification, and accused the Boeing of covering up “serious safety concerns.”

“In you opening statement, you said ‘Safety is a journey, not a destination’,” Cruz noted during his questioning time. “For the 346 souls lost on the two 737 MAXs that crashed, safety was all about arriving at their destination.”

“Like Dogs Watching TV”

The committee also heard from Michael Stumo, who lost his daughter Samya Rose aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Speaking on behalf of his family two weeks before Samya’s birthday, he provided arguments against the statements Boeing made after the first 737 MAX crash: Lion Air Flight 610.

Michael Stumo, father of Samya Rose Stumo, who died aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Photo courtesy: U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“Samya experienced six minutes of roller coaster terror; so did the others on the plane,” Stumo told the committee. “The first crash should not have happened. The second crash is inexcusable.”

His testimony focused on Boeing comments and FAA Actions between the two accidents. Calling the aircraft “deadly” with “with ill-fitting engines bolted to a 50-year-old fuselage,” he accused Boeing and the FAA of allowing external pressure to override safety checks-and-balances.

“Boeing engineers have told us, the families, that the FAA and industry is allowed undue influence on safety engineers to creep in,” Stumo said in his prepared testimony. “The prior system resisted undue influence because FAA appointed, removed and supervised Boeing engineers involved with certification duties.

“Now, FAA allows Boeing to self-certify, Boeing engineers are cut off from FAA technical specialists. By reporting only to Boeing managers, the profit and timeline pressures can overwhelm the safety culture.”

In closing, Stumo used the words of a Boeing employee to summarize the FAA “like dogs watching TV.”

His testimony was partially in support of a bill introduced on June 17, 2020, by chair Wicker and ranking member Cantwell to increase oversight of the FAA. If passed into law as drafted, the FAA would be tasked with direct approval of manufacturers’ engineers acting on their behalf, and strengthen whistleblower protections inside both the FAA and the aviation industry.

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1 Comment

  1. cscasi

    June 18, 2020 at 7:28 am

    “His testimony was partially in support of a bill introduced on June 17, 2020, by chair Wicker and ranking member Cantwell to increase oversight of the FAA. If passed into law as drafted, the FAA would be tasked with direct approval of manufacturers’ engineers acting on their behalf, and strengthen whistleblower protections inside both the FAA and the aviation industry.”
    The FAA has been too lax for too long and has allowed Boeing to police itself. The FAA Certification that just reviews what Boeing sneds it and rubber stamps it, is sorely lacking. That area needs to be restructured, new management put in place and everyone there needs some retraining on what certification management is supposed to be. Too many lives have been lost due to lack of management oversight and allowing engineers to sit around and twiddle their thumbs. It’s out there folks! Not in the office!

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