FAA head says Boeing’s oversight system ‘is not working’

Click to play video: 'FAA head says Boeing’s oversight system ‘is not working’'
FAA head says Boeing’s oversight system ‘is not working’
WATCH: The head of the U.S. agency inspecting how Boeing builds planes told lawmakers the corporation's internal oversight system appeared not to be working. Global's Nathaniel Dove reports – Feb 6, 2024

The head of the American agency charged with keeping passenger planes safe told U.S. lawmakers Boeing’s internal safeguards may have failed and that its oversight system “is not working.”

Facing questions from Congress on why some Boeing planes had loose bolts, why one plane’s nose wheel rolled away just before takeoff and why a door plug was ripped out of plane while in mid-air, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Michael Whitaker told the House Aviation Committee there need to be changes.

“I certainly agree the current system is not working because it’s not delivering safe aircraft, so we have to make changes to that,” he said, referring to Boeing’s internal oversight process.

Whitaker told U.S. lawmakers the FAA is looking at increasing oversight and anything else that can be done to improve airplane safety.

His appearance comes as the company faces fierce scrutiny over a series of apparent mechanical failures, like when a door plug blew off an Alaska Airlines Boeing MAX 9 plane mid-air on Jan. 5.

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Click to play video: 'Boeing’s mid-air panel blowout has ‘shaken trust’ of travellers'
Boeing’s mid-air panel blowout has ‘shaken trust’ of travellers

Whitaker told members of the House of Representatives that about 20 FAA inspectors are at Boeing facilities, examining the processes and speaking to employees, as part of a six-week audit. He said about a half dozen inspectors are at Spirit Aerosystems, Boeing’s subcontractor that makes the door plug panel that was found to have holes improperly drilled.

He said he anticipates permanently hiring more inspectors to examine sites.

The FAA ensures the safety of civilian air travel in American airspace and is probing Boeing’s compliance with safety regulations and manufacturing processes.

When asked if the probe had uncovered any further safety issues, he said “it hasn’t shown any findings that have led us to immediate action.”

And when asked why the FAA had allowed the MAX 9 to fly again after initially grounding them, he said the organization did so after implementing new inspection and repair procedures.

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“So you’d fly on the 737-9 MAX?” Representative Chavez Deremer asked Whitaker.

“Yes, I would,” he replied.

Click to play video: 'Former Boeing execs raise red flags about 737 MAX planes'
Former Boeing execs raise red flags about 737 MAX planes

He also said the FAA has a whistleblower portal on its website, and a separate portal specifically for Boeing employees, to report any wrongdoing or concerns.

Canadian airlines previously told Global News they don’t fly the MAX 9 aircraft, though some have code share agreements with airlines that do.

The National Transportation Safety Board, another American agency, is investigating the specific Alaska Airlines plane. Whitaker said that the FAA was working with the NTSB and that it has not had any findings yet.

Boeing’s CEO Dave Calhoun admitted to mistakes by the U.S. plane manufacturer and vowed incidents like the mid-air panel blowout last week can “never happen again.”

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— with files from Aaron D’Andrea and Sean Boynton and The Associated Press’ Ted S. Warren, Claire Rush and David Koenig and Reuters’ David Shepardson.

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