Boeing, the FAA, and Ensuring Public Safety

Boeing, the FAA, and Ensuring Public Safety

DALLAS — The Boeing Company, the Virginia-based aerospace manufacturer, has been under scrutiny following the Alaska Airlines (AS) Flight 1282 accident involving the blowout of a door plug on a Boeing 737-9 MAX. Boeing has now been restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from ramping up its production of the 737 MAX until further notice. Dave Calhoun, CEO and President of Boeing, agrees with the agency’s decision to limit the expansion of production.

Calhoun was in Washington, D.C., to meet with US senators, where he gave the comments. “We all want safe airplanes. This is a safe airplane,” Calhoun said, adding there is “no question” that the FAA has the authority to restrict the increase in production. These comments follow others from Calhoun earlier this month during a staff-wide meeting, where he said Boeing would fully cooperate with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FAA in investigating the door plug accident.

Boeing 737 Max Photo: Boeing

FAA’s MAX Production Restriction

Earlier this week, the FAA cleared the MAX 9 to return to service following the directive for operators of the aircraft type to complete inspections of the door plug maintenance and installations. However, while production of the jets can continue, it must be at the current monthly rate for an indefinite period. Boeing has not disclosed that current rate, but before the AS accident, they had plans to increase output as soon as next month.

FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said, “This won’t be back to business as usual for Boeing. We will not agree to any request from Boeing for an expansion in production or approve additional production lines for the 737 MAX until we are satisfied that the quality control issues uncovered during this process are resolved.” The delay in increased production is expected, by some, to affect future airline delivery schedules.

After the grounding of the 737-9s, Boeing’s previous request for a safety exemption for its upcoming 737-7 model is facing increasing opposition. The FAA is now under political pressure, with Senators Tammy Duckworth and Maria Cantwell publicly opposing the exemption. The FAA’s oversight of the American manufacturer is part of the debate surrounding the company’s adherence to safety standards.

NTSB system operation investigator with Chair Jennifer Homendy on the flight deck of N704AL. Photo: NTSB
NTSB system operation investigator with Chair Jennifer Homendy on the flight deck of N704AL. Photo: NTSB

Boeing’s Request for Safety Exemption

Regarding Boeing’s requests that the Boeing 737-7’s engine anti-ice system be exempted from certain safety standards it failed to meet, the FAA acknowledged a potentially catastrophic flaw in this system, with Boeing arguing that the chances of such a failure are “extremely improbable.” The company believes that providing pilots with a warning to turn off the system in certain circumstances is enough to ensure safety.

Allied Pilots Association (APA) spokesperson Capt. Dennis Tajer said that the FAA had sent out a bulletin stating that if pilots leave the engine anti-ice for more than five minutes in clear air, “the engine can come undone, the cowling could break away from the airplane,” and pieces can penetrate the cabin and cause an off-airport landing.

This means that the Boeing 737 MAX has no other alert system to warn flight crews about the issue, and they are flying on aircraft that depend on the memory of two pilots who do not need to remember this on other aircraft to keep them from having such incidents happen. “Boeing is failing right now to produce a reliable, and most importantly, safe, product on a consistent basis,” Tajer said.

Boeing requested the exemption through June 2026 to give it time to come up with a permanent design fix for the system. Tajer says that it is unacceptable for Boeing to take two years to fix the issue. On Thursday, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, a pilot and chair of the Aviation Safety Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, urged the FAA to reject Boeing’s request.

Senator Duckworth wrote a letter to Whitaker, stating that the “FAA should deny Boeing’s petition for an exemption and press the company to accelerate implementation of a mechanical fix to its faulty anti-ice system,” echoing Tajer when he says, “The FAA has just got to stop this madness.”

N704AL blown-out door plug hole from the outside. Photo: NTSB
N704AL blown-out door plug hole from the outside. Photo: NTSB

Leadership, Quality Control and Public Welfare

According to the first “fundamental canon” of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Code of Ethics, engineers must “hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public.” While Calhoun is not an engineer, Boeing’s previous CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, is, and Whitaker is a lawyer. This begs the question: Is there an issue with the leadership at Boeing and the FAA?

As a result of the growing opposition and the FAA’s acknowledgment of the system’s flaw, there are serious doubts about the timing of the Boeing 737-7’s entry into service, of which it has more than 4,300 orders, as well as that of the 737-10 variant.

In the end, the CEO and President of Boeing cannot help but agree with the FAA’s decision to limit the expansion of MAX production and slow down his company’s push for profit for the sake of public welfare.

Featured image: Boeing

Doug Wint is a contributing writer for Airways. He has always had a passion for aviation and enjoys every aspect of the industry. Doug has created aviation-related content for various media outlets in the form of both written articles and videos. He is an instrument rated private pilot based in New York City.

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