Aviation

Senate whistleblower report alleges oversight problems with aerospace industry safety

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A Senate whistleblower report released on Monday alleges a number of oversight problems involving safety in the aerospace industry.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation released a report after speaking with seven identified whistleblowers from the aerospace industry, including a Boeing senior engineer, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) engineer, two former FAA engineers, a former Boeing engineer, a former Boeing senior manager and a former GE Aviation engineer.

The committee, led by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), said the whistleblowers spoke with staff on the panel on multiple occasions.

In its report, the Senate committee said the FAA’s certification process had suffered because of “undue pressure on line engineers and production staff,” and that line engineers who had technical expertise were sometimes ignored during the certification process for the Boeing 737 Max program follow two high-profile crashes involving those planes and 787 programs.

The committee also found that the FAA did not equip its office in Seattle, which was overseeing the Boeing Organization Designation Authorization, with enough safety engineers. That organization designation authorization is reportedly the most complex one in the country.

Whistleblowers told the committee that there are gaps in the FAA’s certification process that have led to aircraft designs not addressing current airworthiness standards. Curtis Ewbank, a former Boeing engineer, told the panel that there were gaps in the “Changed Product Rule,” which allowed the FAA to authorize the 737 Max in line with outdated airworthiness standards, including parts involving the flight crew alerting systems.

The committee’s report also alleges that the FAA’s oversight of certification processes weakened under the organization designation authorization, and that the agency and industry as a whole is being confronted with new obstacles connected to aircraft systems because of human factors and automation.

The committee also laid out a number of recommendations after speaking with the seven whistleblowers, which mainly focused on implementing tenets of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act. The law was enacted on Dec. 27, 2020 as a result of the high-profile crashes.

The committee called for bolstering the FAA’s oversight over the organization designation authorization program and addressing the strain on the Boeing Organization Designation Authorization.

The lawmakers also recommended that the FAA complete a workforce review of Boeing’s Aviation Safety Oversight Office to discern gaps in staffing levels, then assign a sufficient number of people to work at the facility.

Additionally, the committee said the FAA should conduct an annual safety culture assessment, as is mandated in the law, among other recommendations included in the report.

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