Sunday, 20 December 2020

The FAA slammed in U.S. Senate report on aviation oversight.

The United States Senate has released a report on aviation safety oversight following the Boeing 737 MAX crashes that led to the global grounded of the type lasting nearly 2 years.

The official report published on Friday slates the Federal Aviation Administration over a number of issues including letting Southwest Airlines fly aircraft in an unairworthy condition for a number of years and obstructing investigations into the 737 MAX crashes as well as its treatment of and retaliation against whistleblowers.

The 101-page report tells how the FAA's senior managers have not been held accountable for failure to develop and deliver adequate training in Flight Standards despite repeated findings of deficiencies over several decades.

In April of 2019, weeks after the second of two tragic crashes of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation staff began receiving information from whistleblowers detailing numerous concerns related to aviation safety. Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker directed staff to begin an oversight investigation. The scope and breadth of the investigation quickly expanded beyond the first allegations inspired by the 737 MAX tragedies. Information received from fifty-seven whistleblowers revealed common themes among the allegations including insufficient training, improper certification, FAA management acting favourably toward operators, and management undermining of frontline inspectors. The investigation revealed that these trends were often accompanied by retaliation against those who report safety violations and a lack of effective oversight, resulting in a failed FAA safety management culture. 

In support of the committee’s investigation, Chairman Wicker sent seven letters, which included thirty specific requests for information to the FAA. To date, more than half of the requested information remains unanswered or incomplete. Committee staff have reviewed approximately 13,000 pages of documents over the course of the investigation. Some of the correspondence in response to the Chairman’s letters appeared to be contradictory and misleading. As a result of the slow response to document requests, Chairman Wicker requested twenty-one FAA employees be made available for interview by committee staff. Over the twenty-month investigation, committee staff were permitted to interview less than half of the employees requested. The documents received and the FAA employee interviews conducted produced inconsistencies, contradictions, and in one case possible lack of candour.

This report details a number of significant lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership in the FAA. The committee is in receipt of many more examples and continues to receive new information from new whistleblowers regularly. Some of the most significant findings include: 

FAA senior managers have not been held accountable for failure to develop and deliver adequate training in Flight Standards despite repeated findings of deficiencies over several decades.

The FAA continues to retaliate against whistleblowers instead of welcoming their disclosures in the interest of safety.

The Department of Transportation Office of General Counsel (DOT OGC) failed to produce relevant documents requested by Chairman Wicker as required by the U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 1.

The FAA repeatedly permitted Southwest Airlines to continue operating dozens of aircraft in an unknown airworthiness condition for several years. These flights put millions of passengers at potential risk.

During 737 MAX recertification testing, Boeing inappropriately influenced FAA human factor simulator testing of pilot reaction times involving a Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) failure.

FAA senior leaders may have obstructed a Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT OIG) review of the 737 MAX crashes.

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