FAA inspectors weren't qualified to certify Boeing 737 Max pilots, investigation finds

USA Today 1 month ago

A government watchdog agency says some Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors were not fully qualified to certify pilots to fly a variety of aircraft, including the troubled Boeing 737 Max.

The U.S Office of Special Counsel, acting on a whistleblower complaint, says it found instances of inspectors who had not received all required formal training and were notcertified flight instructors. Yet, according to the whistleblower, the inspectors were involved in hundreds of evaluations, known as "check rides," to certify pilots to fly aircraft ranging from the Gulfstream VII to the 737 Max. The Office of Special Counsel outlined its findings Tuesday in letters to President Donald Trump and to Congress.

The FAA has denied the finding that its inspectors weren't qualified, at least when it came to evaluating pilots for the 737 Max.

The 737 Max, the latest version of the famed workhorse airliner, remains at the center of several investigations following two crashes at foreign airlines in the past year. A Lion Air 737 Max jet crashed into the Java Sea late last year, and in March, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa. Combined, 346 passengers and crew died in both crashes.

While scrutiny of the jet has focused primarily on an automated control system that appears to have factored in the crashes, the inquiries are reaching further, probing in particular how Boeing and FAA went about designing and getting approvals for the 737 Max.

The FAA's independent Office of Audit and Evaluation found 16 out of 22 safety inspectors had not completed formal training, according to the special counsel's office. Of those 16, 11 lacked the required flight instructor certificate. The inspectors who lacked full qualifications included the evaluation group in Seattle, where Chicago-based Boeing has long based its factory operations, and those assigned to the 737 Max. 

“The FAA is entrusted with the critically important role of ensuring aircraft safety," said Special Counsel Henry Kerner in a statement. “The FAA's failure to ensure safety inspector competency for these aircraft puts the flying public at risk."

In addition, the office said the FAA issued misleading statements when questions were raised by members of Congress about training of FAA inspectors. On April 4, the FAA told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that "all of the flight inspectors who participated in the Boeing 737 Max Flight Standardization Board certification activities were fully qualified." 

Asked for comment about the special counsel's findings, the FAA repeated its assertion that its Boeing 737 Max inspectors were qualified.

"All of the aviation safety inspectors who participated in the evaluation of the Boeing 737 MAX were fully qualified for those activities," the FAA said.

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