Aviation manufacturers have long argued that victims should not be permitted to sue for aircraft design defects because, before any manufacturer’s aircraft leaves the ground, its design has to be approved and certified by the FAA. If the aircraft’s design is good enough for the FAA’s engineers, they argue, it should be good enough for the court system. Judges and juries should not be permitted to second guess the FAA.
Aviation attorneys representing victims of air crashes take a different position. They argue that the FAA "approval" process is not really an independent safety review of an aircraft’s design at all. Rather, the FAA certifies aircraft based largely on the say-so of engineers who, though designated by the FAA, are in fact employees of the manufacturer seeking the certification. The issue of whether an aircraft’s design is defective is thus appropriately left to the judgment of an independent jury. In short, the fact that the FAA certified a design doesn’t really mean all that much.
Now FAA certification of an aircraft’s design will mean even less — at least with regard to Boeing aircraft. That’s because the the FAA will drop out of the certification process completely for certain Boeing products. Beginning August 31, the FAA will allow Boeing to self-certify its designs. The FAA will not even do the rubber stamping — Boeing employees will do that too. According to the Seattle Times,
The new system increases the authority of the in-house inspectors directly managed by Boeing, allowing them to review new designs, oversee testing to ensure the products meet all applicable standards, and sign off on certification.