Acting FAA chief defends agency's Boeing 737 Max safety certification

Acting FAA chief defends agency's Boeing 737 Max safety certification
© Aaron Schwartz

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defended his agency's safety certification of Boeing's 737 Max aircraft during a congressional hearing on Wednesday, as the company continues to face scrutiny following a pair of deadly crashes involving the jet. 

The FAA official, Daniel Elwell, acknowledged that the company should have done more to explain the aircrafts' automated flight-control system prior to the crashes, but doubled down on its decision not to ground the jet until other regulators moved to do so, the Associated Press reported. 

"In the U.S., the 737 Max will return to service only when the FAA’s analysis of the facts and technical data indicate that it is safe to do so,” Elwell told members of the House aviation subcommittee, according to the outlet.

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Elwell said the agency will submit an update to the plane’s flight-control software “in the next week or so,” adding that the FAA will review the changes, conduct test flights and evaluate any additional pilot training needed before the planes are allowed to fly again.

The FAA acting chief faced a grilling from lawmakers on Boeing's handling of its inspection and grounding of the jet.

Committee members expressed frustration with the company after seeing none of its requests for documents fulfilled as the House panel seeks to investigate the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes involving the aircraft.

House Aviation subcommittee Chairman Rick LarsenRichard (Rick) Ray LarsenAviation chairmen cite safety, new tech among concerns for the future The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Diplomat's 'powerful' testimony and 'lynching' attract headlines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Trump's impeachment plea to Republicans MORE reportedly opened the meeting, declaring, "The FAA has a credibility problem."

Rep. Dina TitusAlice (Dina) Costandina TitusOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation The PREPARED Act will protect vulnerable animals when disaster strikes MORE (D-Nev.) reportedly told Elwell that the public thinks “you were in bed with those you were supposed to be regulating, and that’s why it took so long” to ground the 737 Max. 

Other lawmakers defended the company, suggesting the crashes were due, in part, to pilot error.

"It bothers me that we continue to tear down our system based on what has happened in two other countries,” Rep. Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesDemocratic lawmaker asks for probe of reports Chao favored Kentucky officials Trump administration to repeal waterway protections Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties MORE (R-Mo.) said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that an internal assessment found that top FAA officials did not participate in or monitor safety reviews of 737 Max planes' in-flight control systems before the plane was approved for worldwide sale.

The sensor system is thought to be behind two deadly crashes involving the 737 Max jets in a six-month period that led to more than 300 deaths and the plane being grounded globally.