The FAA ignored safety issues ahead of deadly crashes, cozied up with companies it was supposed to regulate, and retaliated against whistleblowers, according to an explosive congressional investigation

FILE PHOTO: A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California, U.S., March 26, 2019.  REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California

  • An explosive congressional report released on Friday found “significant lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership” at the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • The report determined that the agency repeatedly ignored safety warnings ahead of fatal crashes, was cozy with the companies it was supposed to regulate, and retaliated against whistleblowers who raised concerns.
  • It also said the FAA and Boeing improperly influenced tests meant to determine if 737 MAX aircraft were safe to fly again, and that the FAA let Southwest Airlines put “millions of passengers at potential risk” by not knowing if planes were safe.
  • The report summarizes the findings of a nearly two-year-long Senate investigation prompted by two fatal crashes involving Boeing 737 MAX planes, which the FAA cleared to fly again last month.
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In April 2019, following two deadly crashes involving Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation opened an investigation into the incidents.

On Friday, 20 months later, the committee released its findings in a scathing report that blamed the Federal Aviation Administration for repeatedly falling short on its regulatory duties, with regards to Boeing as well as the industry more broadly.

“Our findings are troubling,” Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi who chairs the committee, said in a press release.

“The report details a number of significant examples of lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership in the FAA. It is clear that the agency requires consistent oversight to ensure their work to protect the flying public is executed fully and correctly,” Sen. Wicker said.

As part of its investigation, the committee heard from more than 50 whistleblowers, interviewed FAA staff, and reviewed over 15,000 pages of documents.

A spokesperson for the FAA told Business Insider the agency had “just received” the report and is “carefully reviewing the document, which the Committee acknowledges contains a number of unsubstantiated allegations.”

“The FAA is committed to continuous advancement of aviation safety and improving our organization, processes, and culture,” the spokesperson said.

The report comes just weeks after the FAA cleared the 737 MAX to fly again.

“Boeing is committed to improving aviation safety, strengthening our safety culture, and rebuilding trust with our customers, regulators, and the flying public. We take seriously the Committee’s findings and will continue to review the report in full,” Boeing said in a statement, adding “we will never forget the lives lost on board.”

A spokesperson for Southwest told Business Insider the company was aware of the report and has “utilized many of these past references to improve our practices and oversight, further enhancing an already robust Safety Management System.”

“Southwest Airlines maintains a culture of compliance, recognizing the Safety of our operation as the most important thing we do,” the spokesperson said, adding: “We do not tolerate any relaxing of standards that govern ultimate Safety across our operation.”

A few of the major points from the report include:

  • During tests meant to determine if the 737 MAX was safe to fly again, Boeing “inappropriately influenced” flight simulation tests. 
  • FAA senior leadership “may have obstructed” a review of the crashes conducted by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general. (The FAA said it “conducted a thorough and deliberate review” along with international regulators and was “confident” that the safety issues that played a role in the crashes have been addressed.).
  • The FAA “repeatedly permitted Southwest Airlines to continue operating dozens of aircraft in an unknown airworthiness condition for several years. These flights put millions of passengers at potential risk.”
  • FAA leadership repeatedly overruled and undermined the agency’s frontline safety inspectors and ignored their warnings – and, in at least one case, the warning preceded a fatal crash.
  • Multiple whistleblowers alleged a culture of “coziness” between the FAA and Boeing as well as other companies within its regulatory scope.
  • The FAA provided “contradictory and misleading” information to congressional investigators, refused to answer more than half of its questions and refused to let them interview many of its staff.
  • The FAA “continues to retaliate against whistleblowers.”

Read the full report here »

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