FAA Directly Oversaw 737 Max Software Approval, Agency Head Says

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. aviation regulators were directly involved in the review and approval of the anti-stall system on Boeing Co.’s grounded 737 Max aircraft that has been involved in two fatal crashes, the chief of the Federal Aviation Administration plans to tell Congress Wednesday.

The FAA is also revamping how it oversees companies such as Boeing that have been granted authority to use their own employees to sign off on aircraft designs, the Transportation Department’s inspector general will also testify to a Senate panel, according to written statements obtained by Bloomberg News.

The 737 Max’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, caused a Lion Air jet to repeatedly dive on Oct. 29 until pilots lost control and it crashed. An Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max followed a similar flight path before it slammed into the ground on March 10. The two crashes killed 346 people.

“FAA engineers and flight test pilots were involved in the MCAS operational evaluation flight test,” Elwell said in the remarks prepared for a Senate hearing on Wednesday. “The certification process was detailed and thorough, but, as is the case with newly certified products, time yields more data to be applied for continued analysis and improvement.”

The FAA is ordering Boeing to make revisions to the system so that it’s not as likely to cause pilots to crash in a malfunction. The application for the update reached FAA on Jan. 21 and it has been tested by FAA pilots in simulators and in flights, Elwell said. The agency expects to approve the system soon.

Boeing said in a statement it will monitor the hearing Wednesday and “continues to support the ongoing accident investigations, and is working with the authorities to evaluate new information as it becomes available.”

By July, the FAA will institute a new approach for overseeing aircraft certification work performed by company employees on the agency’s behalf, a shift that represents a “significant change in its oversight approach,” Calvin Scovel, the DOT’s inspector general, said.

The change comes in response to a 2015 report by Scovel’s office that found FAA’s oversight of certification work delegated to companies was not focused on the broader aircraft systems and practices at companies that presented the highest risk, according to his remarks.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt, in his prepared remarks, said his agency, which conducts aviation accident investigations and is assisting in the 737 probes, is reviewing how Boeing certified MCAS.

The FAA and Boeing face multiple reviews of how the plane, which was grounded March 13, was approved, including a possible criminal investigation led by the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division. Elwell promised to cooperate in the probes.

The testimony was earlier reported by Reuters.

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