Boeing 737 MAX Prompts FAA Design Review Reforms

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed yesterday the steps it plans to take in order to tighten up its procedures for approving aircraft designs. This comes after the regulator came under fire in the wake of the twin Boeing 737 MAX tragedies.

Boeing 737 MAX
The FAA has detailed some of the steps it will take to tighten up approval procedures. Photo: Getty Images

FAA outlines design review changes

In response to a panel review conducted in January, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has outlined a number of changes to the way it conducts aircraft design reviews. The FAA had previously come under fire for allowing Boeing and other planemakers to conduct their own reviews, a policy that was criticized following the disaster of the 737 MAX.

Investigations following the two fatal crashes of the type raised questions over the culture at Boeing and, in particular, its relationship with the FAA. As a result, the FAA is looking to overhaul the way it assesses aircraft designs, although it has stopped short of ruling out Boeing’s central role in the process.

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In a statement, as reported by the Seattle Times, the FAA responded to the findings of the January investigation, and to recommendations made by the Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and her advisory committee. In it, the regulator said its existing safety protocols were “sound,” although it admitted there were “areas where we have opportunities to improve.”

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The agency admitted there were areas it needed to improve. Photo: Getty Images

In total, the FAA has identified steps it plans to take in 10 key areas to improve the way it scrutinizes aircraft design. As well as reviewing what and how it delegates to companies like Boeing, it is also looking at hiring in experts to oversee the process. Joint working with other nations is also on the table.

Specifically, the agency said it would give more scrutiny to potential pilot errors, especially where these were associated with the ramping up of automatized aircraft controls. It also said it would try to take a broader view of how different systems interact with each other, and how this could potentially lead to additional safety risks.

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New safety management tools

One of the key steps outlined by the FAA yesterday is to mandate the use of new safety management tools by Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers. These Safety Management Systems (SMS) are already required by airlines but were recommended by the blue-ribbon committee as a result of the January investigation.

Chao’s committee had said,

“SMSs foster a holistic assessment of whether the combinations of actions such as design, procedures, and training work together to counter potential hazards.”

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The FAA is looking to mandate SMSs, but won’t remove Boeing’s involvement in the process. Photo: Getty Images

Although the adoption of SMSs could be a step forward, many questions still remain over Boeing’s underlying culture. Shortly after the MAX was grounded, internal documents came to light, suggesting the aircraft was ‘designed by clowns who are supervised by monkeys.’

Indeed, even the January report was criticized by some, with Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the House Committee on Transportation, claiming it only served to defend the FAA’s current system of airline certification. De Fazio further said this week that “we already know the FAA’s certification process is in need of a major overhaul.”

Of course, the 737 MAX is still not back in service, although Boeing remains confident that production will restart this month. The latest update showed there were still software issues to address before the aircraft to get back to work, or even complete the crucial certification test flights.

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Boeing will implement the SMS. Photo: Getty Images

Now, it seems Boeing will look to implement these SMS recommendations in order to begin restoring confidence. In a statement carried by Reuters, Boeing said that,

“To further strengthen our safety culture, Boeing is working with the FAA to implement a safety management system.”

Boeing still expects to return the aircraft to service in the third quarter of this year.

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