FAA to increase oversight of Boeing and audit 737 Max 9 production

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it was expanding its probe of Boeing, increasing its oversight of the company through an audit of the production of the 737 Max 9, a week after a panel on the fuselage of one of those planes exploded in flight. .

Later Friday night, the FAA said it would mandate the group's initial round of inspections on 40 Max 9 planes — the exit door would go in a different configuration. Max 9s. The company said it needed more information on the inspection process before endorsing Boeing's guidance for delivery.

A total of 171 grounded planes in the United States will not be allowed to fly again until they are inspected, which could take several days once the FAA approves the inspection process.

About 20 percent of Alaska Airlines' fleet is made up of Max 9 jets, and the company has already had to cancel several of its flights in recent days as a result of the grounding. United Airlines is the largest operator of the aircraft in the US, although the jet makes up just 8 percent of the major carrier's fleet.

“We're working to make sure nothing like this happens again,” the FAA's executive said. Mike Whittaker said in a statement. “Our only concern is the safety of American passengers, and the Boeing 737-9 Max will not return to the skies until we are fully satisfied.”

The audit will assess whether Boeing and its suppliers follow approved quality control procedures. The FAA is looking more closely at problems with the Max 9 and said it is investigating safety risks associated with the agency's practice of outsourcing some oversight to authorized Boeing employees, which some lawmakers and safety experts have criticized after two crashes of 737 Max 8 planes killed 346 people. .

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“It is time to reassess the delegation of power and assess the security risks associated with it,” Mr. Whittaker said in a statement. “The fundamentals of the 737-9 and the many production-related issues identified in recent years warrant a look at every option to mitigate risk.”

No serious injuries were reported in the crash last week, but the episode could have been more devastating when the plane was at cruising altitude; The door plug exploded when the plane was at an altitude of 16,000 feet and was still climbing after takeoff from Portland. Investigators are focusing on what caused the door plug to suddenly rip from the plane.

Alaska Airlines has canceled Max 9 flights this weekend. On Friday, United said it had canceled all Max 9 flights through Tuesday to reduce uncertainty, replace some flights with others and accommodate the majority of customers.

United said its technicians continue to prepare to begin formal inspections and will share what they find with the FAA.

“As we have said before, these flights will not fly until they are approved and we believe they are 100% safe,” the airline said in a statement.

On Thursday, the FAA announced an investigation into whether Boeing failed to ensure aircraft quality and safety.

Boeing said in a statement that it “welcomes the FAA's announcement and will fully and openly cooperate with our regulator.”

“We support all measures to strengthen quality and safety, and we are taking steps across our manufacturing system,” the company added.

The FAA has outsourced some oversight of the certification of airplanes and aircraft parts to corporate employees for years. After a lengthy investigation into Max's design, development and certification, House Democrats criticized the practice, saying the agency outsourced too much responsibility to Boeing employees who lacked sufficient independence.

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On Friday, the Senate confirmed Mr. Whittaker said he was open to giving the show another look. He also said the company is exploring using an independent third party to oversee Boeing's inspections and its quality system.

Some aviation experts say the practice is necessary given the FAA's limited resources, and that replacing it would require Congress to give it more money and the authority to hire more experts.

Arjun Garg, the FAA's former chief counsel and acting deputy administrator, said the agency doesn't have the resources to examine every aspect of an airplane. Bringing in-house all the work that has been outsourced to Boeing and other manufacturers in the aviation industry will increase the agency's staff and budget, Mr. Cork said.

“I don't think you can blame Congress or the FAA for this,” he added. “The system is designed with security oversight and practicality of resource constraints in mind.”

Outsourcing of oversight is common among regulators, but Government Accountability Office Report on 2022 The FAA does not audit this practice, as does the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. That year, the FAA said it had strengthened oversight of the practice by better protecting delegated agency employees from interference.

A day before the FAA's report, Senator Maria Cantwell, a Washington state Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, called on the FAA to increase oversight of manufacturers, including contractors such as Spirit Aerosystems, which produces the 737's fuselage. Maximum for Boeing.

“The public deserves a comprehensive evaluation of Boeing and Spirit Aero Systems to strengthen product quality and aviation safety,” Ms. Cantwell said in a statement Friday.

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