MIAMI – Three Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports written years before the Boeing 737 MAX fatal crashes showed concerns regarding the agency’s self-certification program, according to a FlightGlobal report.

According to the post, the 2015 documents “broadly review the agency’s Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program and recommend improvements that would enable the agency to reduce some p roject involvement,” describing the “Boeing-FAA relationship as ‘contentious’ and possibly requiring a ‘reset’.”

The reports were completed before the major fatal crashes that involved a Lion Air 737 MAX in October 2018 in Indonesia, and an Ethiopian Airlines (ET) in March 2019. Both crashes killed a total of 346 people. After the crashes, the ODA program received enormous criticism.

Photo: Boeing

An Uneven Application of Safety Standards

“Investigators attributed the accidents to factors including Boeing’s design, the FAA’s certification process, and Pilot and maintenance issues. US lawmakers recently introduced legislation aimed at strengthening the FAA’s certification oversight,” the story said. However, even before the Boeing 737 MAX fatalities happened, there were some flaws in the program.

“Lack of consistent performance management systems, change-resistant frontline mindsets, and skills challenges contribute to variable performance,” the report said, adding that “disagreement on safety relevance contributes to uneven application of standards.” The FlightGlobal story also highlighted the frictions in the relationship between the FAA and Boeing.

As stated in the report, one of Boeing’s representatives told the agency that their relationship had “deteriorated to the point where every non-compliance finding is viewed as a systemic problem… as if we don’t have a commitment to safety.”

Boeing 737 MAX-9 Photo: Boeing

Tensions Due to Disagreements Regarding FAA’s Recommendations

“The FAA’s Boeing office describes repeated and recurring instances where Boeing leadership engages with FAA leadership before [the] escalation process has run its due course,” the reported stated. The same report stated that FAA was “more reactive than” the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA),” and that “EASA supports Airbus in a way that isn’t mirrored by the FAA with us.”

The FAA documents also highlighted some “competition pressures” that are generated by projects and delivery commitments. “Releasing a product a year later will mean delaying if not entirely forfeiting that revenue, as new products from other suppliers will create obsolescence for your product,” the report said.

Photo: Boeing

Recommendations Were Made to Improve the ODA Program

As per the report, there were some recommendations made, including that the agency should “partner with applicants to prioritize policies for emerging technologies;” to “reduce paperwork and harmonize its regulations with those of other countries;” and to “accelerate delegation of some types of certification, and improve ‘systems-level oversight… by building and leveraging’ ODAs’ capabilities and responsibilities.”

These changes, according to the report, could have reduce “the FAA’s real-time project involvement by 40%.” 

Featured image: Boeing 737 MAX-8. Photo: Boeing