Boeing safety tests use 'more boots on the ground'

  • By Theo Leggett
  • Business Correspondent, BBC News

image source, Good pictures

“More boots on the ground” will be used to speed up safety checks on Boeing planes, the head of the US Aviation Regulatory Commission has said.

Federal Aviation Administrator Mike Whittaker told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday that Boeing is “undergoing a robust investigation” after a door plug on one of its planes broke last month.

No one was seriously injured in the mid-air attack.

But problems found in studies have raised questions about standards.

Mr Whittaker told the congressional committee that he would ensure aircraft manufacturer Boeing would be held accountable for any future failure or refusal to comply with the FAA.

His comments came after an unused door exploded from an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max nine minutes after takeoff from Portland International Airport.

Although no one was seriously injured, the incident could have been much worse had it happened later in the flight.

Since then, flight inspections have revealed loose bolts and fittings on other planes, calling Boeing's manufacturing quality into question.

The plane manufacturer revealed this week that parts of the plane's main tube, the fuselage, sent to Boeing by the plane's main supplier, Spirit Aerosystems, were found to be defective.

The FAA itself faced accusations of failing to impose adequate oversight on Boeing.

Concerns were first raised after two catastrophic crashes involving the 737 MAX in late 2018 and early 2019, in which 346 people died.

Last month's door explosion has put a renewed spotlight on the agency's work.

image caption,

Last month a disused door on a Boeing jet exploded

Appearing before the House of Representatives' Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, Mr Whittaker said the review of the 737 MAX planes showed “the quality system issues at Boeing are unacceptable and require further investigation”.

He pointed out that Boeing has already been barred from expanding production of the 737 Max, and said the FAA has opened an investigation into Boeing's compliance with production requirements.

Mr. Whittaker added that the FAA is looking forward to the results of a comprehensive review of Boeing's safety culture, which is being conducted by a panel of representatives from the FAA, unions, engineering experts and others.

The FAA will “follow the data and take appropriate and necessary actions,” he said.

“I stress, the safety of the flying public is our mission,” he concluded.

Responding to questions from lawmakers, Mr Whittaker said the Alaska Airlines incident had created two problems for the regulator.

“First what's wrong with this plane? Second what's going on with the Boeing?” He explained.

“They've had issues in the past that don't seem to be getting resolved.”

He said the FAA currently has about two dozen inspectors working at Boeing's factories and another half dozen at Spirit Aerosystems.

However, he said no decision has been made on the future of the ODA (Organisation Designation Authorisation), which allows Boeing to carry out some safety certification work on behalf of the regulator.

In the past, the system has been described as Boeing “marking its own homework.”

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