Watchdog Faults FAA For 'Significant Misunderstanding' Of Flight System

The Federal Aviation Administration must fix oversight weaknesses found following the Boeing 737 Max crashes, according to a new report from the Transportation Department's inspector general.
The Federal Aviation Administration must fix oversight weaknesses found following the Boeing 737 Max crashes, according to a new report from the Transportation Department's inspector general.
Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration must address "weaknesses" in its oversight of Boeing that led the agency to miss flaws that contributed to two deadly crashes involving the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, a federal watchdog has found.

An inspector general's report from the Department of Transportation said U.S. aviation regulators do not understand the plane's flight control software that caused two devastating crashes in 2018 and 2019.

A Lion Air flight crashed off the coast of Indonesia in October 2018, killing all 189 passengers and crew members. A second crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane occurred in March 2019, killing all 157 people on board.

The 737 Max was grounded for nearly two years. Boeing has since redesigned the aircraft, and the FAA has certified it to return to the skies. But the inspector general concluded the FAA's approach to analyzing the integration of new technology to existing aircraft designs must be improved.

The 63-page report released Wednesday is the product of a review ordered by former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

It recommends 14 changes the FAA must make "to restore confidence." The agency says it agrees with the suggestions and has plans to implement all of them, but indicated it could take five years to do so.

Boeing said in a statement in response to the report, "We have undertaken significant changes to reinforce our safety practices, and we have already made progress on several of the recommendations outlined in the final report."

The report also faulted FAA management for being "too deferential to Boeing," and urged the agency to ensure people tasked with inspecting Boeing are properly independent.

"Some FAA staff cited instances in which they thought FAA managers shared their position during internal meetings, but made decisions in Boeing's favor after discussing with the company," the report said.

The Boeing 737 Max returned to U.S. skies last December. The plane was cleared to fly again in Europe a month later.

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