In Wake Of Boeing 737 Crashes, Senate Bill Would Overhaul New Plane Approval Process: Reuters

Citing the aviation industry’s undue influence over the approval and certification of new aircraft, two U.S. Senators have drafted legislation that seeks to overhaul the approval process new air craft.

According to a report by Reuters News published on June 12, a draft copy of legislation by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker and ranking member Senator Maria Cantwell would let the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) choose who works on certification tasks, and would let the agency appoint safety advisors.

In addition to giving the FAA greater power over the certification process, the draft bill would also provide $150 million in funding over 10 years for the FAA to train and hire new personnel whose goals will be to develop new standards for emerging technology. The legislation has not been formally introduced, but the bipartisan measure has been circulated on Capital Hill.

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For years, the FAA has delegated certification tasks to employees of manufacturers. However, many say this has led to a corruption of the process, with manufacturers able to fudge on safety requirements without adequate FAA oversight.

The issue came to a head following two fatal aircraft accidents involving the Boeing 737 MAX and a subsequent investigation into how the aircraft and its problems got through the approval process.

The first Boeing 737 accident occurred on October 29, 2018, when Lion Air Flight 610 went down after departing from Jakarta, Indonesia airport, killing all 189 passengers and crew.  Investigators determined that the pilots struggled for 11 minutes to keep the plane in the air, likely due to a problem with the plane’s Angle of Attack sensor, which kept telling an automated system that the pilots were unable to shut off that the nose should be pointed down.

A second crash occurred when another Boeing 737 Max plane crashed just minutes into its flight on March 10, 2019, killing all 157 passengers and crew on board Ethiopian Airline Flight 302. Shortly after this incident, the entire 737 Max fleet was grounded worldwide.

Both crashes were initially attributed to the aircrafts’ angle of attack system, which is the attitude of the wings in relation to airflow. When air flows over the wings at the correct angle, you get lift, which is what makes a plane fly. If the air is not flowing over the wings properly, the plane can stall, which occurs when it loses lift and begins to fall out of the sky.

In October, the FAA released a Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) which found that the 737 MAX airliners were not adequately investigated, and its anti-stall technology was not properly certified. The JATR found that the FAA dropped the ball on the review process.

Sources told Reuters the bill is likely to be introduced on Wednesday during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Boeing 737 MAX Investigation

That same month, Boeing reportedly reached a settlement agreement to pay at least $1.2 million to each family who lost a loved one in the Lion Air Flight 610 crash to resolve a number of wrongful death lawsuits.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have launched a criminal probe into the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX jet, in addition to ongoing investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board as well as French investigators.

Boeing has also promised to pay $144,500 to the families of every victim of the two accidents from a $100 million compensation fund. Those who lost loved ones in the accidents have until December 31, 2019 to participate in the compensation fund. However, filing a claim with the fund does not negate their ability to pursue an individual lawsuit against Boeing.

Boeing still faces more than 50 additional lawsuits linked to both crashes in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The 737 MAX aircraft remains grounded worldwide.


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