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FAA Head Assures Congress Boeing 737 Max Won't Return Until Safe

FAA Head Assures Congress Boeing 737 Max Won't Return Until Safe

The lead U.S. aviation regulator told Congress Wednesday that the agency is driven to make sure Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA)’s 737 Max airplane is safe and gave assurances it won’t return to the air until the Federal Aviation Administration is convinced that's the case. 

Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell testified Wednesday before the House Transportation Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee and defended the agency’s certification of the top-selling plane and its handling of the decision to ground the jet after two accidents that killed a total of 346 people.

The MAX “will return to service only when the FAA’s analysis … indicates it’s safe to do so,” Elwell said.

The agency will thoroughly evaluate changes to a safety software system known as the“maneuvering characteristics augmentation system,” or MCAS, that is linked to the crashes, and will unground the planes “once we are absolutely convinced” it is safe, he said. 

Larsen: Safety Underpins Aviation System

The FAA has a “credibility problem,” because the system for certifying the airworthiness of aircraft relies on delegating some authority to manufacturers — and because of the way in which the FAA seemed to move slowly in grounding the aircraft after a second crash in five months, said Rep. Rick Larsen, the subcommittee's chairman. 

Larsen is a Democrat from Washington, where Boeing builds the plane. 

“If the public does not feel safe about flying, then they won’t fly,” the congressman said.

"If they don’t fly, that’s the end of the whole airline and aircraft industry," he said. “Therefore, the foundation of the U.S. aviation system is safety.”

Elwell: FAA Approval Wasn't Rushed 

Elwell, a former commercial pilot, said he believes the certification process has adequate oversight and safeguards against conflicts of interest, though it could always be made better.

The approach of involving companies in the process “does not diminish the FAA’s role as a safety regulator,” Elwell argued.

“Any party that the FAA regulates remains responsible for compliance with the FAA’s regulatory standards, and the FAA does not hesitate to take enforcement action.”

Asked by Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat from Kansas, whether the FAA moved too quickly to certify the plane for flight, Elwell outlined the five-year process that ended in 2017, including nearly 300 test flights, and said it wasn’t out of the ordinary.

“I certainly wouldn’t characterize it as rushed,” Elwell said.

Pilot Understanding Of MCAS Is Key

Rep. Peter DeFazio, the chairman of the full transportation committee, said a key question revolves around how some pilots apparently didn’t know how to respond to the MCAS technology, which causes aircraft to change pitch on their own to avoid a stall.

The intended safety feature is under scrutiny in both 737 MAX crashes, in Ethiopia in March and in Indonesia in October. 

Elwell outlined efforts by Boeing and regulators to boost pilots’ awareness of procedures for preventing planes from overcorrecting, but acknowledged under questioning that the information initially sent to pilots could have more heavily emphasized the system.

“I, as a pilot, when I first heard about this, I thought there should have been more text in the manual about MCAS, I agree,” he said. 

Wednesday’s hearing is expected to be only the first in a series on the issue.

Elwell was joined at the committee by National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt. Boeing officials did not testify.

Related Links:

Barclays Downgrades Boeing After Survey Shows Long Road To Regaining Passenger Confidence

WSJ: Boeing Failed To Disclose Known Safety Alert Problem

Photo by Jeff Hitchcock/Wikimedia

Posted-In: 737 MAX FAAGovernment News Regulations Politics Travel General Best of Benzinga


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