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FAA misled Congress on inspectors' training, probe finds

The findings could be a major setback for the FAA, which is trying to re-certify the 737 Max worldwide.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this May 8, 2019, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jetliner being built for Turkish Airlines takes off on a test flight in Renton, Wash. On Wednesday, July 31, members of a Senate subcommittee clashed with Federal Aviation Administration officials, contending the agency was too deferential to Boeing in approving the 737 Max airliner. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The Office of Special Counsel has found that officials at the Federal Aviation Committee misled Congress about the training its inspectors received, including inspectors that likely oversaw the certification of the 737 Max. Investigators determined this after examining a whistleblower complaint. 

“The FAA is entrusted with the critically important role of ensuring aircraft safety,” Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner wrote in a letter to President Trump. “The FAA’s failure to ensure safety inspector competency for these aircraft puts the flying public at risk.”

The findings are a major setback for the FAA. The organization is currently trying to convince aviation regulators worldwide to re-certify the 737 Max, which was grounded worldwide after fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The two separate incidents killed 346 people. 

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The letter raised issues with Aviation Safety Inspectors, who administer skill tests to other pilots and sit on Flight Standardization Boards. The board was responsible for approving pilot training criteria for the 737 Max. The whistleblower mentioned in the letter "alleged serious deficiencies in Aviation Safety Inspector training and certifications, which affected their ability to participate in Flight Standardization Boards." 

The FAA disputed the findings in an email statement. "We remain confident in our representations to Congress and in the work of our aviation safety professionals," the organization said. "Aviation safety is always our foremost priority, and we look forward to responding to the concerns that have been raised." 

"The FAA stands behind its response to Sen. Wicker’s questions about the qualifications of Flight Standardization Board members," the FAA said in a statement. "All of the Aviation Safety Inspectors who participated in the evaluation of the Boeing 737 MAX were fully qualified for those activities."

On April 2, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation queried the FAA concerning Aviation Safety Inspector and Flight Standardization Board training and certification training, with a focus on the board for the 737 Max. The FAA said on April 4 that "all of the flight inspectors who participated in the Boeing 737 Max Flight Standardization Board certification activities were fully qualified for these activities" It asserted that the inspectors who dealt with the 737 Max had "their own specific training requirements."

The letter to President Trump challenges the FAA statement. "The questionable assertion that they had their own specific training requirements diverts attention away from the likely truth of the matter: that they were neither qualified under agency policy to certify pilots flying the 737 Max nor to assess pilot training on procedures and maneuvers," the report said.

"The FAA's failure to ensure inspector competency for these aircraft subjected the flying public to substantial and specific danger."

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