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FAA Chief To Appear Before Congress Concerning 737 Max Crashes


When the CEO of Boeing testified recently before Congress, he faced criticism for the crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX planes. Today, it is Steve Dickson's turn. The administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration is testifying before the House Transportation Committee. That committee is looking into the crashes. The FAA is accused of overlooking Boeing's design flaws when certifying the plane. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: While many air travelers say they won't fly on a 737 MAX if and when the plane returns to service, Jay Hanmantgad will, but the London resident says only after regulators in Canada, Europe and other countries certify the plane is safe. He no longer trusts the FAA.

JAY HANMANTGAD: Certainly not. The American federal agency didn't actually do its job this time. They've kind of pushed through something that shouldn't have been pushed through.

SCHAPER: Another traveler recently passing through Chicago's O'Hare Airport, Rahsaan Bernard of Washington, D.C., says he, too, is concerned that the FAA seems to have failed to provide adequate safety oversight.

RAHSAAN BERNARD: When you have influential players in the marketplace like Boeing, in essence, you can't have Boeing checking itself - right? - and/or you can't have Boeing putting pressure on the relationships that they have at the FAA to get things passed.

SCHAPER: But over the last decade and a half, many aviation experts say that's exactly what's happened.

PAUL HUDSON: We're now in a situation where 98% of all the regulation of Boeing is done by Boeing itself with its own employees.

SCHAPER: Paul Hudson is with flyersrights.org and sits on advisory committees to the FAA.

HUDSON: The level of quality has gone down dramatically at Boeing as the oversight has been reduced.

SCHAPER: A recent report by Hudson's group details how the FAA's increasing delegation of oversight responsibilities has compromised safety.

HUDSON: The FAA has to take back control from Boeing. There can no longer be self-regulation.

SCHAPER: As the investigations into the 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia find evidence that Boeing downplayed the risks of a new flight control system on the MAX and that the FAA failed to catch those flaws, the regulatory agency's reputation around the world has taken a hit. For decades, the FAA established a high benchmark for aviation safety globally. It built a strong relationship with its regulatory counterparts in other countries.

MARISA GARCIA: The MAX actually really created a rift in that relationship.

SCHAPER: That's Marisa Garcia, an aviation writer and analyst based in Denmark, who notes that aviation authorities in Canada, Europe, India, South Africa and elsewhere are now pushing back and doing their own reviews of Boeing's fixes and revisions to the 737 MAX.

GARCIA: Individual regulators are not comfortable doing a cosign, a rubber stamp, of the FAA's views on this.

SCHAPER: And in recent weeks, the FAA has been flexing more regulatory muscle over Boeing. FAA administrator Steve Dickson has said the agency will not be rushed into recertifying the 737 MAX, repeatedly telling employees they should be thorough in their testing and analysis and take all the time they need, points that Dickson will likely highlight before Congress today.

Also appearing before the House Transportation Committee is a Boeing whistleblower, Edward Pierson. He says as a senior manager at the 737 factory outside of Seattle, he complained to superiors about safety risks created by the pressure to ramp up production four months before the first 737 MAX crash. The now-retired Pierson told NBC's "TODAY" show that overworked and exhausted employees made mistakes while putting the planes together, describing the assembly plant floor as dangerous and chaotic. Ed Pierson says he wrote to company executives telling them the safety of the flying public was at risk.


EDWARD PIERSON: You know, I said that all my internal warning bells are going off and that, you know, for the first time in my life, I'm hesitant about putting my family on a Boeing plane.

SCHAPER: Pierson says he thinks the production problems contributed to the MAX crashes. In a statement, Boeing says the company took his concerns seriously but that Pierson's suggestion of a link between his concerns and the recent MAX accidents is completely unfounded. Meanwhile, the FAA has its hands full, not only defending its regulatory actions but it trying to restore its reputation as a world leader in aviation safety. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC LAU'S "CLOUD BURST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.