FAA misled Congress on inspector training, federal investigator finds

FAA appears to have misled Congress in its responses to questions about employee training and competency, an inspector’s letter said

Boeing 737 MAX airplanes are seen after leaving the assembly line at a Boeing facility on August 13, 2019 in Renton, Washington. A federal investigator has released a new letter that says the FAA appears to have misled Congress in its responses to questions about employee training and competency. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

The FAA appears to have misled Congress in its responses to questions about employee training and competency leading up to grounding of 737 Max jets in March, according to a federal investigator.  

Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner, in a letter Monday to President Donald Trump, said Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors “lacked proper training and accreditation” to certify pilots, including those flying the Boeing 737 Max, putting air travelers at risk.

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“The FAA’s failure to ensure inspector competency for these aircraft subjected the flying public to substantial and significant danger,” Kerner wrote in the letter, which was also sent to members of Congress.

The U.S. grounded Boeing 737 Max jets in March after two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed 346 people. The crashes were largely blamed on a faulty system that erroneously reported that the airplane was stalling, but some pilots have complained that they were not appropriately briefed about the system and its risks.

Kerner, whose office was responding to a whistleblower report from an FAA safety inspector, said that the FAA appeared to “obfuscate” concerns about the preparation of safety inspectors.

“The FAA is entrusted with the critically important role of ensuing aircraft safety,” Kerner added in a statement. “The FAA’s failure to ensure safety inspector competency for these aircraft puts the flying public at risk.”

Kerner’s letter said safety inspectors participate in formal classroom and on-the-job training. But the investigation found that 16 of 22 safety inspectors had not completed formal training. And it found 11 of the 16 under trained safety inspectors did not have Certified Flight Instructor certificates — a requirement for the job. Among the under-trained inspectors were some assigned to the 737 Max.

The whistleblower reported that under-trained inspectors nonetheless administered hundreds of certifications that permitted pilots to operate aircraft including the 737 Max.

The FAA, in response to questions from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on April 4, 2019, said “all of the flight inspectors who participated in the Boeing 737 Max Flight Standardization Board certification activities were fully qualified for these activities,” Kerner wrote.

The FAA, in a written response, said it was reviewing the Special Counsel’s letter.

“We remain confident in our representations to Congress and in the work of our aviation safety professionals,” the statement read. “Aviation safety is always our foremost priority, and we look forward to responding to the concerns that have been raised.”

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