Ahead of a 2016 meeting to discuss training requirements for the 737 MAX, a Boeing employee sadly described distraught federal regulators as “dogs watching television.” After two fatal accidents that claimed the lives of 346 people and a congressional investigation that denounced “grossly insufficient surveillance”, these dogs may have finally found their bite.
The Federal Aviation Administration recently denied Boeing permission to proceed with a key step in the certification process for its new 777X widebody jet, citing a litany of concerns including a serious flight control incident in December.
In a scathing letter first reported by Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates, the agency listed nearly a dozen problems with the aircraft, which began its test flight program last year.
“The technical data required for type certification has not reached a point where it appears that the aircraft type design is mature and can meet applicable regulations,” wrote Ian Won, Acting Safety Officer at the FAA Boeing Watch Office.
In short: âThe plane is not yet ready.
The move will likely delay the aircraft’s use in commercial service until early 2024, four years after its original target. That’s bad news for a struggling Boeing in the short term, but a welcome sign that the FAA may no longer have an endorsement relationship with the aerospace company.
Late last year, Congress passed legislation restoring tighter FAA oversight, and in May, a congressional committee requested files to investigate production quality failures on the 787 Dreamliner, the 737 MAX and the 767-based KC-46 tanker. Also in May, the FAA fined Boeing $ 17 million for 737 production errors.
During the 737 MAX certification process, Boeing misled compliant regulators who had delegated increasing authority to the manufacturer to determine the safety of its own aircraft. It turned out to be a misplaced trust in a company that had abandoned its tradition of technical rigor in the urgency of fueling its results.
The return of true government surveillance is a crucial step not only in rehabilitating the reputation of the FAA in the country and around the world, but also in helping to restore the credibility and reputation of America’s largest manufacturing exporter.
The work of restoring that trust and changing the corporate culture that has allowed it to erode will not happen overnight. Won’s letter points out that Boeing has been pushing for months to pursue certification even as the FAA questioned the readiness of the new jet.
For its part, Boeing said it “remains fully focused on safety as our top priority throughout the development of the 777X”.
Its good. But if the company has learned the lesson, thanks to federal regulators finally doing their job, no one has to take Boeing at its word.