February 22, 2024

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F.A.A. to Increase Oversight of Boeing and Audit 737 Max 9 Production

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The Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday that it was expanding its scrutiny of Boeing, increasing oversight of the company with an audit of production of the 737 Max 9, a week after a panel in the body of one of those planes was blown out during flight.

The audit will assess whether Boeing and its suppliers adhered to approved quality control practices. The agency also said it would more closely scrutinize problems on the Max 9 and investigate safety risks associated with the agency’s practice of outsourcing some oversight to authorized Boeing employees, which some lawmakers and safety experts criticized after two crashes of 737 Max 8 planes killed 346 people.

“It is time to re-examine the delegation of authority and assess any associated safety risks,” the agency’s administrator, Mike Whitaker, said in a statement. “The grounding of the 737-9 and the multiple production-related issues identified in recent years require us to look at every option to reduce risk.”

There were no serious injuries from the accident last week, but the episode could have been far more catastrophic had it happened when the plane was at cruising altitude; the panel blew out when the plane was at 16,000 feet and still ascending after taking off from Portland, Ore. Investigators are focused on what caused the panel, a plug for an unused exit door, to suddenly be ripped out of the plane.

“We welcome the F.A.A.’s announcement and will cooperate fully and transparently with our regulator,” Boeing said in a statement. “We support all actions that strengthen quality and safety and we are taking actions across our production system.”

The F.A.A. has for years outsourced to corporate employees some oversight of the certification of airplanes and airplane parts. After a lengthy investigation into the design, development and certification of the Max, House Democrats criticized that practice, saying the agency had outsourced too much responsibility to Boeing employees, who may not be sufficiently independent.

Some aviation experts say that the practice is necessary given the F.A.A.’s limited resources and that changing it would require Congress to give the agency more money and authority to hire more professionals. Outsourcing of oversight is common among regulators, but a Government Accountability Office report in 2022 found that the F.A.A. did not audit the practice as closely as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. That year, the agency said it had strengthened oversight of the practice by better protecting the deputized company employees from interference.

In his statement on Friday, Mr. Whitaker, whom the Senate confirmed as F.A.A. administrator in October, said he would be willing to give the program another look. He also said the agency was exploring the use of an independent third party to oversee Boeing’s inspections and its quality system.

On Thursday, the F.A.A. announced an investigation into whether Boeing failed to ensure that the plane was up to standards and safe to operate.

Niraj Chokshi

2024-01-12 19:52:40

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