Democrats seek probe of key FAA decisions on 737 MAX approval

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives transportation committee and another key Democrat asked the Transportation Department’s inspector general on Tuesday to examine key decisions made by the Federal Aviation Administration in certifying Boeing’s 737 MAX jet for use.

FILE PHOTO: Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) speaks at a committee hearing on “Oversight of U.S. Airline Customer Service,” in the aftermath of the recent forced removal of a passenger from a Chicago flight at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The request follows the March 10 crash of a 737 MAX jet in Ethiopia and the crash in Indonesia in October of another 737 MAX jet.

The inspector general’s office said it would open an audit Tuesday into the plane’s approval but has not disclosed what it will examine. Representative Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and committee member Rick Larsen said the crashes underscore “the need to take a more proactive approach with safety to protect the traveling public.”

The two Democrats asked in a letter that the probe include a review of what “led to the FAA’s decision not to revise pilot training programs and manuals to reflect changes to flight-critical automation systems.”

The FAA declined to comment on the letter.

Congress plans to hold hearings as early as next week on the two fatal crashes that are expected to include the FAA’s acting chief, Dan Elwell, and other government officials. The Democrats want the review to help improve the “certification process overall and identify improvements to oversight and safety of all new aircraft.”

Boeing said earlier on Tuesday that it would fully cooperate in the inspector general’s audit.

The Democrats want the audit also to include a review of how each of the new features on the Boeing 737 MAX, including positioning of engines on the aircraft and the corresponding changes to automation, angle-of-attack sensors, and how new software “were tested, certified, and integrated into the aircraft.”

They also ask the review to include “how new features of the aircraft, and potential performance differences in this aircraft, were communicated to airline customers, pilots and foreign civil aviation authorities.”

They also want a status report on corrective actions since the fatal Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October “and whether pilots are being adequately trained before the 737 MAX is returned to revenue passenger service throughout the international aviation community.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler

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