US Investigation endorses FAA certification process despite 737 Max 8 failures

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A panel of experts setup by the US government following the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max 8s has approved the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft certification process after a six month investigation.

The special committee of aviation and safety experts was set up by the US Department of Transportation in response to the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, one in Indonesia and one in Ethiopia, killing 346 people.

The six-member panel was headed by co-chairs Lee Moak, the president of the trade union the Air Line Pilots Association and Darren McDew, former commander of the Air Force’s transportation command, which administers US military transportation.

The report produced following the six month investigation states: “The Committee found the FAA’s overall certification system to be effective.”

However, the report also concludes: “There is opportunity for improvement in the following areas: assumptions related to pilot performance and training, clarification and implementation of human factors assessments, review of the cumulative effect of multiple changes to aircraft design, providing of a holistic system operational risk assessment, and internal communication and communication between Boeing and FAA.”

The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) practice of delegating parts of the aircraft certification process to manufacturers has been heavily criticized following the Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes, including by an international investigation panel last October. However the report defends industry collaboration and warns against changes:

“The Committee cautions against any actions that would systematically dismantle the FAA’s current certification system and its use of delegated authority,” says the report. “Any radical changes to this system could undermine the collaboration and expertise that undergird the current certification system, jeopardizing the remarkable level of safety that has been attained in recent decades.”

The report also pointed to the heavy workload the FAA handled – between 2013 and 2017, roughly the period of time during which the 737 Max 8 was built, tested and certified for production it said that the FAA issued 1,127 type certificates, 4,173 supplemental type certificates and approved 10,340 new parts for aircraft. It did this “while monitoring the continuing operational safety of all US State of Design aircraft operating worldwide” said the report.

A full executive summary of the report, including a series of recommendations made, can be read here.

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 20 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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