Families of those lost in the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crash met with Biden’s Transportation Department seeking to get the top FAA official fired for being “too cozy” with Boeing. According to the families, “The FAA has been, and continues to be, more interested in protecting Boeing and the aviation industry than safety.” The families specifically question why the FAA did not ground the Max jets after the crash of the first 737 Max crash in Indonesia.
The problem, however, is not just the FAA leadership. Rather it’s the entire FAA system that needs to be overhauled. It is now a mere shell of what it once was. Indeed, it was 10 years ago that the FAA abdicated to Boeing its certification responsibilities and granted 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.”
Allowing Boeing to “self-certify” seemed like an obviously bad idea at the time. It wasn’t long thereafter that that Boeing’s new 787s began to catch fire. The NTSB investigated, and raised the same concerns 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.”
The FAA didn’t listen. Instead, it allowed 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 no longer oversees the manufacturers. It is not longer staffed for it. It is no longer funded for it. Firing a few FAA officials won’t fix the problem.