737 MAX Panel: Change The Certification Process

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Changes to the way the FAA certifies aircraft are said to be part of the Joint Authorities Technical Review panel’s report on the Boeing 737 MAX, due next week. CNN is citing sources close to the panel saying that it is in the “final stages of completing their work” and that it will recommend changes to the certification process to prevent issues from “falling through the cracks,” as they did with the MAX’s MCAS flight-control software, which has been implicated in two fatal crashes.

The panel is also expected to call into question the degree to which the FAA has allowed Boeing to evaluate its own processes under the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program. The FAA has maintained that it needs the ODA to keep up with certification programs after budget cuts and lack of resources to service large manufacturers like Boeing.

In response to those criticisms, the FAA says that the “certification of the Boeing 737 MAX is the subject of several independent reviews and investigations that will examine all aspects of the five-year effort. While the agency’s certification processes are well-established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs, we welcome the scrutiny from these experts and look forward to their findings. We will carefully review all recommendations and will incorporate any changes that would improve our certification activities.”

The JATR panel has members from nine foreign aviation agencies, but does not have representation from Boeing. This panel is distinct from the internal FAA review process.

Meanwhile, Boeing continues logistical preparations for the 737 MAX’s return to service. Boeing is set to add “a few hundred” employees to maintain and prepare stored, undelivered aircraft. Boeing currently has newly produced aircraft parked throughout Washington state, including at the Moses Lake airport, 150 miles east of Seattle.

Reuters is reporting that Boeing will move the aircraft from Moses Lake to Seattle and Everett airports in preparation for delivery once the aircraft is cleared to resume flying. Boeing says it expects the jet to be flying again before the end of the year.

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11 COMMENTS

    • My day job is jet engine certification, and we also operate under ODA. The manual of instructions to write your company’s ODA manual (which itself must be approved by the FAA) is 350 pages long. Getting set up under ODA is onerous, to say the least. The FAA is undermanned; having every little step in a certification overlooked by the FAA would literally cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and delay things by years, not months.
      ODA has been in effect for years, and has been largely successful.
      The situation questioning ODA came about when Boeing introduced a system with a potential single point of failure, without alerting the troops that such as system was now on their plane. Their system also wasn’t smart enough to ignore that single point of failure, and, indeed, controlled the airplane based on faulty information. Yes, the pilots coulda/shoulda saved the day, but they didn’t, and, at this point, I cannot fault them.
      In our company, there is no way you could introduce a feature (usually via FADEC software) without noting it in the operations manual, and calling for extra training if needed. At Boeing, it’s apparent that that could happen, because it did happen.
      Boeing’s ODA setup certainly may need to be tweaked, but giving full authority back to the FAA is a bad move; they simply cannot handle it. The people most qualified to do the work are already at Boeing, Pratt&Whitney, Cessna, GE, etc.

      • Logically, I hear what you’re saying Richard P. but if you’re gonna ask the fox to guard the hen house, you gotta make sure that you hand pick the fox and occasionally look into the barnyard to count the hens make sure it isn’t eating any chickens when you aren’t looking. Adopting that tactic and never looking back in is fraught with danger.

        They hide behind the term “safety” and then MCAS happens …. give me a break! That’s really all ya need to know here.

    • Well, yes, Mark, that is perhaps the elephant in the room that none of these review panels appear to be acknowledging, not that there weren’t a number of issues that Boeing could have handled more effectively. However, so far the hard evidence seems to indicate that poorly trained and qualified crews were the primary contributors to these accidents.

    • If you go through some NASA reports, you’ll see that American crews HAVE had to deal with anomalous situations in the MAX (apparently related to the MCAS system). Just because they came out on top doesn’t mean it’s okay for the plane to try and fly you into the ground.

      • In another blog, someone reported that Ethiopian Air had Max8 simulators while we didn’t. Great. But allowing a 250 hr copilot into the pit … not good !! I’m with you, Mark … you won’t find my carcass on one of those third-world airliners.

        • “ODA is fox watching the hen house”, “FAA are over worked under staffed” and “pilots can’t fly”. ‘Human Error’ seems to be the issue on every level…. Time to replace the humans with something instead of someone. These comments are pushing for an answer to real problems and one possible solution is A.I..

          Just figure having three, five or more independent computers constantly reviewing every single detail of the aircraft. The computers are never late and always attentive. When instrumentation fails the computers will text the ground staff and follow through with published corrective action to the letter. That’s just in the first second of discovery. Two seconds later a ground staff will diagnose the situation and watch the A.I. operations of things from an office in the middle of the engineer’s offices.

          • AI would be a VERY bad choice for an autonomous aircraft control system.

            Code branching = behavior branching. Bad.