An audit report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the United States Department of Transportation (DoT) found that weaknesses in the certification process of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) hindered the oversight of the Boeing 737 MAX.
While the FAA and Boeing “followed the established certification process” when the two parties were looking at the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX, the OIG of the DoT found “limitations in FAA’s guidance processes that impacted certification.” That resulted in not properly understanding the infamous Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), noted the report published on February 23, 2021.
The system was found to be the culprit of the two fatal crashes in Indonesia and in Ethiopia, which claimed a total of 346 lives.
According to the report, the agency’s “certification guidance does not adequately address integrating new technologies into existing aircraft models.” Furthermore, the FAA was not fully aware of “Boeing’s safety assessments performed on MCAS until after the first accident.”
The Organization Designation Authorization (ODA), under which manufacturers are able to issue certification on behalf of the FAA, showcased that the authority “has not yet implemented a risk-based approach to ODA oversight,” read the report. Additionally, the FAA’s management and oversight weakness has limited the agency’s ability to assess and mitigate any risks associated with the manufacturer’s ODA unit.
Engineers in Boeing’s ODA unit “continue to face challenges in balancing certification and oversight responsibilities,” highlighted the OIG, as the report raised concerns that it was not clear whether the FAA, in its current state, could effectively identify high-risk safety risks associated with the ODA.
US House and Senate passed the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act in order to improve processes at the FAA in December 2020.
The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded worldwide in March 2019, following the second fatal flight in Ethiopia in March 2019 on an Ethiopian Airlines flight. The aircraft type began to return to service, with the FAA being the first to unground the aircraft in November 2020.