Both the Department of Justice and Transportation Department’s inspector general are investigating the FAA’s approval of the Boeing 737 Max and, in particular, the aircraft’s anti-stall system known as MCAS.

The FAA is supposed to ensure that Boeing aircraft are safe. Investigators want to know:

  • Are the FAA and Boeing too cozy?
  • Is the FAA’s oversight is too lax?
  • Is it true that the FAA didn’t actually certify the Max’s anti-stall system as safe but instead allowed Boeing to certify the system itself? Wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest?

Perhaps the real question is why these questions are being asked only now.

It was almost 10 years ago that the FAA abdicated its certification responsibilities and granted to Boeing the power to certify its own products. I questioned then whether that was in the best interests of safety.

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.”

Then, in 2013, Boeing’s new 787s began to catch fire. The problem seemed to be Boeing’s new batteries. The NTSB investigated, and raised the same questions that I had a few years earlier. NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman hinted that maybe, just maybe, the FAA isn’t doing its job:

This is an issue when you have a regulator with limited resources. . .You can delegate some of the action, but you can’t delegate responsibility.”

No one seemed to listen. In fact, the FAA, for its part, began to allow manufacturers to certify even more of their own products. In fact, by 2017, the FAA outsourced 90% of all aircraft certification work to the manufacturers themselves.

The FAA is supposed to oversee aircraft manufacturers to ensure that the aircraft they produce are safe for the flying public. They can’t do that if they leave it to manufacturers to police themselves. Yet, that’s what they’ve done since 2009.

Is it any wonder that we’re where we are now?