As Boeing Co. works toward the recertification tests of its 737 MAX aircraft, the parallel controversy of Boeing's working relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration is resuming under a Congressional inquiry. In a U.S. Senate hearing this week, FAA administrator Stephen Dickson testified that that agency and the OEM each made errors in certifying the 737 MAX as airworthy in 2017.
Prior to the hearing, a bipartisan bill — the Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020 — was introduced. If enacted, the new regulation would authorize FAA to hire or remove Boeing employees conducting FAA certification tasks, and give employees new whistleblower protections.
Boeing and FAA have accused each other of errors, shortcuts, and oversights during the previous process leading to the 737 MAX initial certification in 2017.
During the hearing, Dickson rejected accusations that the FAA was “stonewalling” probes after two fatal crashes.
The two crashes, in October 2018 and March 2019, resulted in the global idling for the 737 MAX fleet and an ongoing effort to resolve the flight-control software problem cited as the cause.
Boeing has revised the 737 MAX's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), and once that programming has been approved by FAA (as well as the European Air Safety Administration and other agencies around the world), Boeing will be cleared to update the flight-control systems in new jets and those already delivered.
In addition to the software revision, Boeing is expected to inform customers of a necessary wiring repair prior to returning the grounded aircraft to service.
But Boeing's working relationship with the FAA is still a matter of some tension.
In the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on aircraft certification this week, Sen. Ted Cruz accused of “avoiding responsibility” for FAA's role in the previous certification.
“The manufacturer made mistakes and the FAA made mistakes in its oversight,” Dickson stated, referring to the revisions in the 737 series. “The full implications of the flight control system were not understood as design changes were made.”
Boeing has not commented on the Senate hearing.