The legacy for Boeing and the FAA
Boeing is a globally respected legacy plane maker, the largest American exporter, and an all-around corporate America success story. The FAA is a governing body that has been at the forefront of global aviation safety and regulation. Both entities have seen their reputations severely tarnished by the ongoing scandal surrounding the 737 Max.
Boeing has been accused of rushing to complete the 737 Max without due regard for safety, and for fostering a high-pressure culture that leaves engineers scrambling to complete impractical, heavy workloads by corporate due dates.
This manifested in the 737 Max’s development in a variety of ways, including a hurried design stage, a failure to catch and fix obvious safety issues — such as making it so that MCAS could be activated by a single broken sensor, without any redundancies — and an allegedly negligent push to downplay MCAS to the FAA in order to get the plane certified as an updated model of the older 737, rather than a new plane with substantial changes.
Evidence suggests that Boeing employees knew there were problems with MCAS, but did not raise them with regulators.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has been stripped of his additional title as chairman of the board, and there have been calls for him to be removed as CEO as well. The head of Boeing’s commercial airplane division has also been replaced.
The FAA, similarly, has been criticized for failing to properly supervise Boeing’s development of the plane, and inadequately scrutinizing it during the certification process.
One aspect of this is the fact that the FAA allows Boeing to self-certify certain technical aspects of its planes.
While this is common practice, it is only effective when there is “adequate FAA engagement and oversight,” according to a report from an international panel of air safety regulatory experts. “However, in the B737 Max program, the FAA had inadequate awareness of the MCAS function which, coupled with limited involvement, resulted in an inability of the FAA to provide an independent assessment of the adequacy of the Boeing-proposed certification activities associated with MCAS.”
Recent reports have suggested that global regulators may not be willing to rely on the FAA’s findings when it reevaluates the plane after Boeing submits its fix.
Typically when a new plane — or a change to an existing plane — is certified, the aviation regulator from the plane maker’s country of origin takes the lead on reviewing it and approving it for service, and other global regulators follow suit after a cursory review based on the original agency’s findings.
The reciprocal process saves time for all involved, including the plane-maker and airline customers, since the baseline standards that the regulators adhere to are generally accepted. The plane manufacturers, who are aware of the requirements, design the aircraft from the ground up to meet those requirements and avoid costly delays.
However, European regulators have said they want to conduct their own test flights of the fixed Max, and may want to carry out a closer inspection as well. Other regulators, including those from China, have expressed similar sentiments.
“With the 737 Max we are a bit worried … because we don’t see the normal unanimity among international regulators that should be the case,” Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told reporters last month. “We see a discrepancy that’s detrimental to the industry.”