politics

FAA punished whistleblowers, protected industry and covered up flaws, Senate report says

The FAA said it’s reviewing the report.

The 20-month investigation originally stemmed from two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes that led to the fleet being grounded, but encompasses far more than that, including findings that the agency allowed Southwest Airlines to operate dozens of aircraft that “were later discovered to have had major repairs done which did not conform to FAA standards,” the report read.

“Unfortunately, much of what has been detailed in this report has been well known and reported on for decades,” it reads. “Despite this awareness, the FAA has failed to correct course and solidify an effective safety culture.”

Among the report’s new findings are that in at least one incident, Boeing coached a test pilot who was being evaluated on how well he could react to various conditions involving a flight control feature called MCAS, whose faulty activation was implicated in the MAX crashes. And, according to the report, the FAA test pilot appears to have been complicit in that coaching, the report said.

Boeing officials gave verbal reminders to the pilot about a certain part of the exercise, which was part of tests conducted while the MAX was grounded and the FAA was figuring out what went wrong and how to respond. Based on interviews with whistleblowers and FAA staff, “FAA and Boeing officials involved in the conduct of this test had established a pre-determined outcome to reaffirm a long-held human factor assumption related to pilot reaction time,” the committee found, saying that it amounts to an attempt by both Boeing and the FAA to “cover up” important information related to the crashes.

The report also says that an FAA employee, the division manager for the agency’s regulatory standards training division, was not allowed by FAA senior leaders to participate in the DOT inspector general’s review of the MAX crashes. “He believes he was excluded purposefully to shield the FAA from the criticism he would likely have provided in an IG interview,” the committee wrote.

The panel also said that the FAA has so far failed to fully comply with a congressional mandate to establish an aviation safety and whistleblower investigations office, and that some managers and even human resources professionals don’t seem to understand what a whistleblower is or how to treat their complaints. In its interviews with FAA investigators responsible for probing whistleblower retaliation, the report said, FAA employees “were not sure what constituted whistleblowing or which FAA office was responsible for investigating such matters.”

In addition, the report unearthed what it called “serious concerns related to credibility,” citing documents the committee reviewed showing that in 2014, a whistleblower investigator “admitted to a colleague that they had been going after whistleblowers and boasted about how many had been fired as a result.” That person, according to the committee, remains employed as a manager at FAA.

Additionally, the committee said the agency’s former number two official, Dan Elwell, supplied misleading responses, including about whistleblower allegations that safety inspectors for the Boeing 737 MAX were inadequately trained.

“Assertions made in letters by then Acting Administrator Elwell were contradicted by internal FAA reports of investigation he included with his response.” the committee wrote.

Boeing said it is taking the committee’s findings seriously and is continuing to review the report in full, saying it has learned “many hard lessons” from the MAX crashes that have “reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality, and integrity.”



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