Senate panel opens investigation of FAA safety inspectors

A Senate committee on Tuesday launched an investigation into whether there was inadequate training for Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors who evaluated Boeing 737 Max planes, which were involved in two deadly crashes in recent months.

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Trump reportedly weighing executive action on alleged tech bias | WH to convene summit on online extremism | Federal agencies banned from buying Huawei equipment | Lawmakers jump start privacy talks The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill MORE (R-Miss.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a letter to acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell that "multiple whistleblowers" have alleged "insufficient training and improper certification of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Aviation Safety Inspectors."

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Wicker added that the committee is concerned that the inadequate training resulted in the "improper evaluation" of the Boeing 737 Max's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, an automated flight-control system that has come under scrutiny following the fatal crashes.

Investigators believed the system was erroneously activated during a Lion Air flight in Indonesia last year, forcing the plane to dive down in a crash that killed all 189 people on board. The system is also thought to have played a role in an Ethiopian Airlines crash last month that killed all 157 people on board.

"In light of recent 737 crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, the committee is investigating any potential connection between inadequate training and certification of Aviation Safety Inspectors who may have participated in the [Flight Standardization Board] evaluation of the 737 MAX," Wicker wrote in the letter Tuesday.

"Specifically, the committee is concerned that such potential lack of training and certification ... may have led to an improper evaluation of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)," he added. 

Wicker also said in the letter that, according to whistleblowers, the FAA may have learned about "deficiencies" in the training for safety inspectors as early as August.

A spokesperson for the FAA told The Hill that the agency "welcomes external review of our systems, processes, and recommendations."