FAA To Testify Regarding Jet Certification Following 737 MAX Crash

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Today Stephen Dickson, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), will testify before the US Senate regarding the fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes. The hearing will focus on new legislation introduced yesterday to ensure future aircraft are held to a higher standard before receiving regulatory approval.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX
The Senate Committee hears today from FAA Chief Stephen Dickson regarding new legislation. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Today’s testimony

Stephen Dickson will take questions today for the US Senate Commerce Committee. The FAA chief will testify regarding aircraft certification procedures. There has been criticism of Boeing’s influences on the certification of its 737 MAX aircraft, which resulted in two fatal crashes in five months, killing 346 people.

Dickson is giving evidence surrounding the design, development, testing, and certification of the MAX aircraft. He will also answer questions regarding the FAA’s long-standing policy of delegating certification tasks to Boeing employees. As Dickson began to testify, Boeing stock fell.

FAA nominee Stephen Dickson
Stephen Dickson, the nominee administrator of the FAA, testifies during his confirmation hearing in the Senate. Photo: Getty Images

New legislation

Mr Dickson will also speak about a new bipartisan bill that was introduced to reform aircraft certification procedures. The bill draws on crash reports, testimony from victim’s families as well as recommendations from aviation experts. The legislation has been called the Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020.

The act would allow significant changes in terms of hiring and firing Boeing staff who conduct FAA tasks. It would also grant more protection to whistle-blowers, after a series of messages revealed that Boeing staff tried to raise concerns but were persuaded not to talk.

Although the new legislation is seen as a step in the right direction, family members of crash victims have said it isn’t enough. Currently, the MCAS system, which has been linked to both fatal crashes, doesn’t have to be certified by the FAA as an individual system. It’s up to Boeing to certify many of the critical systems. There have also been demands for future aircraft to be recertified individually.

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What’s going on with the MAX now?

The MAX aircraft has been grounded since March 2019 after the second fatal crash. Several airlines voluntarily took their MAX jets out of service before the FAA issued a global grounding order. The planes are still grounded and are not expected to receive approval for at least another a few months. It has been rumored that a test flight may take place later this month, but there has been no confirmation of this.

Several new issues have arisen since the initial problems with the MCAS software. When one problem fixed, it seemed to throw up another issue somewhere else. Boeing worked with Collins Aerospace to completely redesign the software to tackle the issues. Minor changes resulted in tolerance sensors incorrectly activating cockpit warning signs, something which has been a problem since the start.

Boeing has wholly redesigned the communication between AoA sensors and MCAS. Photo: Boeing

 

Extra recertification

Once Boeing does get all the problems ironed out, the recertification process may be longer than usual. Not only does the new bill require more thorough testing, but if each aircraft needs to be individually certified, it could take months. Additionally, several countries have raised the possibility of wanting to do their own testing.

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The 737 MAX has been in the news for over a year now, and it’s unlikely to go away any time soon. Even once recertified, there will no doubt be more fallout from the Senate committee. Do you think the new legislation is enough to prevent this happening again?  Have your thoughts on the 737 MAX changed over the last year? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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