Whitaker Faces Oversight Grilling At House Committee Hearing

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The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee will grill FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker on the agency’s actions and future actions on oversight of Boeing Tuesday, and they gave him some homework to help him prepare. He will be asked whether the agency found ongoing quality deficiencies before an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX-9 went through a rapid decompression on Jan. 5 and how it worked with airlines to minimize schedule disruptions in the subsequent grounding.

Leaders of both committees sent a Jan. 31 letter addressed to FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker asking him to prepare for a series of questions related to his agency’s surveillance of Boeing and its suppliers. “What changes, if any, is the FAA considering to its current risk model for inspecting production facilities?” and “Is the FAA properly staffed and resourced to ensure effective aircraft production oversight, including in its Integrated Certificate Management Division?” are among the questions legislators have posed ahead of the hearing. 

While Whitaker can expect a tough session on Feb. 6, the committee leaders said in the letter they approved of the FAA’s actions in the aftermath of the incident. “We support the decisions made thus far by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding the MAX 9 aircraft, including the announced audit of Boeing’s quality control and safety practices and investigation into Boeing’s 737 MAX 9 manufacturing. These actions, including those regarding the return to service, are designed to ensure that the highest manufacturing and quality control standards are maintained throughout our aviation ecosystem.”

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Engaging the FAA in a deeper role in Boeing’s Quality Assurance (QA) could mean not just overseeing but actively contributing to QA improvements. This collaborative approach may foster a culture of continuous enhancement within Boeing’s manufacturing processes.

    However, the flip side is that the FAA would likely face increased scrutiny and accountability for any inefficiencies or lapses in Boeing’s QA. As the FAA assumes a more active role, the line between regulatory oversight and involvement in industry practices becomes blurred. Striking the right balance is crucial to ensure safety and quality without compromising industry innovation and efficiency, making it a delicate and challenging undertaking.

    It should be an interesting session.

  2. Boeing is a train wreck that has just begun. You are now now seeing the initial consequences of decades of misguided management. This isn’t going to be corrected anytime soon even though everyone would like it to be. It took decades to get to this point. I will take decades to get out and that is all dependent upon making the right decisions for correction. I’m not holding my breath. Too big to fail? I think not.

    • You are correct. Addressing Boeing’s complex issues takes time – it’s not going to be a quick fix. The Committee and FAA are likely in for a long haul.

    • The FAA is also a train wreck that hasn’t just begun- it’s burning uncontrollably and more gas is being poured on the fire due to lack of qualified leadership including the present fake of an administrator and the lack of knowledge, skill and ability of the agency and its employees as a whole. The “numbers” of employees which is generally equated to “staffing” is NOT the problem- the numbers are there and the budget is more than adequate. The qualifications and real world practical, sufficiently documented and demonstrable experience of the FAA employees in general and lack of oversight/accountability is the real problem. Telework by FAA employees is essentially contributory negligence on the part of the agency. Absolutely NO accountability.

      Additionally as stated by another reader below, ODA is an absolute disgrace just as is the current DPE program. ZERO oversight of either combined with coin operated manufacturers, repair stations , examiners, and flight schools is going to surface in the future in the form of accidents and loss of life. Good LUCK to all participants- it’s a total soup sandwich.

  3. The outcome of the session will likely depend on how well FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker addresses the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s concerns and how receptive the committee is to his responses.

    Whether the session becomes a political issue or generates hype will depend on the political mood, media coverage, and public perception. If the committee is satisfied with Whitaker’s responses, it may not escalate into a political issue. However, if there are contentious exchanges or if Whitaker’s assurances are met with skepticism, it could attract political attention and media scrutiny, potentially leading to increased public interest and debate. The overall tone and aftermath will hinge on the effectiveness of Whitaker’s communication and the committee’s reception of his statements.

  4. If I was a stock holder in Boeing I would be getting out immediately with no hesitation whatsoever. Personally, I would have gotten out a long time ago. Nothing has changed at Boeing other than it is drinking more Kool-Aid. It’s the Disney syndrome.

  5. I just read a 2019 “New Yorker” story by John Cassidy headlined “How did the F.A.A. allow the Boeing 737 MAX to fly?” which said “FAA outsourced key elements of the certification process to Boeing, itself and that Boeing’s safety analysis of the new plane contained some serious flaws.” As a retired A&P I found this information quite remarkable regarding FAA’s decision.

  6. ODA will be the destruction of aviation certification as we know it. Back in the day certification was an honor for the highly qualified. ODA has been set up for the destruction of aircraft and pilot certification, to name a few.
    The Boeing situation is a failure in quality control and is being signed off by a tame FAA representative. or DAR. Unless or until FAA cleans up the delegation of their work, both the certification of airplanes and pilots will suffer.

    Tom McGregor
    retired FAA inspector

  7. Since this is an intra-government-entity sitdown, we can expect some typical answers to the two softball questions Whitaker already knows are coming. Q1.“What changes, if any, is the FAA considering to its current risk model for inspecting production facilities?” A.”Big, BIG changes… if we have the budget resources, that is” Q2. “Is the FAA properly staffed and resourced to ensure effective aircraft production oversight, including in its Integrated Certificate Management Division?” A. “No. See above – we’ll need Big, BIG budget resources.”

    I hope somebody asks “How did Boeing and the FAA get to this point? Show documentation. We have time to hear the long answer…”

  8. As usual all the kneejerk naysayers chime in early with their evaluations and solutions. I just have to wonder why we should believe the FAA has the expertise and capability to solve any of the problems. Any solution has to be industry-wide and fair to all. If lack of inspections or corporate mismanagement is a problem, it likely is throughout. Boeing has relatively few production facilities. Airbus on the other hand had them scattered all over the earth. If the FAA cannot properly oversee facilities on own turf, how in the world are they planning on overseeing aircraft built in China? And really, knowing the quality China is known for, do you really expect their culture to produce a safe aircraft?

    The only positive news we’re heard from Airbus is they have not only met their delivery goals but exceeded them. Is that a healthy environment? These problems which are not exclusive to Boeing can only be controlled by placing production limits on the manufactures. This industry needs to slow down and be regulated until they prove they can safely increase production.

    The same goes for technology. They are pushing the envelope in every way possible in the name of producing profits for their customers and generating sales. Bad engines, unproven composite materials, computerized flight systems that continue to produce erroneous flight controls. And all of this occurring under the watchful eye of the FAA and EASA.

    IMHO, that door falling out is the least of our problems. Before you jump on the Boeing bashers bandwagon do a little research and learn little about the industry wide safety issues that have occurred with no real solutions. You will find they are not exclusive to Boeing.

  9. We need domestic competition. No country is both large enough and free enough to have a competitive market in jet manufacturing except the USA. The FAA needs to have a goal of fostering the creation and growth of domestic aircraft production without the use of subsidies. In pursuit of this, the speed of regulatory change needs to be accelerated greatly. Regulators who just say no, must be filtered out of the system to make way for those who can balance reasonable risks.
    Due to the increasing importance of light aircraft (manned or otherwise) in national security, the insourcing of production must also be nurtured. Changes in regulations for parts sourcing for American aircraft needs to be made to prevent antagonists from being the only legal and dependable source of components. In pursuit of this, a stronger market in civilian light aircraft and drones must be reinvigorated.
    Finally, like almost every bureaucracy we have, regulations and their enforcement needs to be continually reevaluated to ensure they are primarily directed at those intending misbehavior or being truly negligent rather than simply running up the score on technical violations.

  10. No government agency will ever say they are sufficiently staffed. I used to be a healthcare COO / CIO and now I do IT consulting and often engage with government agencies. Nearly all are OVERstaffed from an IT perspective, have implemented automation to further reduce their overhead burden, but they never let anyone go. The result is that they are so overstaffed that no one person is ever really responsible for anything, so nothing ever gets done 100%, because no one is responsible to see anything completed. Used to see the same thing in healthcare. Too many staff members at work on a slow day, more mistakes actually occur than if staffing was right-sized. My suspicion is that the same thing is going on here. Sometimes, it isn’t about throwing people at the problem, it is about throwing the right amount of properly trained people and setting clear expectations of what is supposed to be done.

    • Well put. Our House members unfortunately cannot seem to do anything that takes more than six months to complete. How are we going to start weeding out the middle managers, or realigning them, so they do better?

  11. Canned answers to the Committee concerning the recent rapid depressurization accident on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 that occurred on January 5, 2024.

    transportation.house.gov/uploadedfiles/2024-01-31_-_final_letter_to_administrator_whitaker_on_boeing_737_max_9.pdf

    (Same answers for “Boeing finds new problem with 737 Max fuselages”. The planemaker plans to rework 50 jets after misdrilled holes were discovered during the production process As reported by WP Aaron Gregg February 5, 2024 at 9:44 a.m. EST)

    Committee members,

    Ans. 1. Regarding further action on Safety Management Systems (SMS):

    I. I want to emphasize the paramount importance of robust Safety Management Systems (SMS) across the aviation industry. Safety is our top priority, and we recognize the critical role that SMS plays in ensuring the well-being of passengers and the integrity of the aviation system.
    II. We are actively engaged in strengthening SMS requirements through rigorous rulemaking processes and collaborative efforts with industry stakeholders. Ongoing initiatives are in place to enhance safety measures, and we remain dedicated to continuously improving the overall safety landscape.
    III. We are open to exploring additional actions based on ongoing investigations and safety assessments. Our commitment is unwavering when it comes to implementing necessary measures that contribute to the safety and well-being of the flying public.

    Ans. 2. Boeing’s quality control:

    I. The FAA is fully committed to rigorous oversight throughout the design, production, and certification process. Our goal is to ensure the highest standards of safety and quality are met at every stage.
    II. It’s important to note that pre-existing issues directly linked to the accidents were not found. However, investigations have identified areas for improvement in Boeing’s quality control processes.
    III. We have taken decisive steps to address these identified areas, working closely with Boeing to implement changes that enhance the overall quality control processes and contribute to the safety of aviation.

    Ans. 3. Increased oversight:

    I. We recognize the potential benefits of increased oversight while balancing the need for efficiency and regulatory effectiveness. Safety is at the forefront of all our decisions.
    II. Our existing oversight measures have demonstrated success in finding and addressing potential safety issues. We remain committed to ensuring a robust safety framework through continuous improvement.
    III. We are open to exploring targeted increases in oversight based on risk assessments and emerging concerns, always prioritizing safety in our decision-making processes.

    Ans. 4. Changes to risk model for inspections:

    I. The current risk-based approach to inspections has proven effective in identifying potential problems before they escalate.
    II. We acknowledge the need for continuous improvement and remain open to refining the risk model based on data and experience. Our commitment is to data-driven decision-making and ensuring risk-appropriate oversight.
    III. We reiterate our dedication to maintaining the highest safety standards through proactive measures and continuous evaluation of our inspection protocols.

    Ans. 5. Delegated oversight and interaction with Boeing:

    I. It is crucial to clearly define our role in overseeing Boeing’s quality assurance processes and the scope of delegated tasks. We take our responsibility for ensuring safety seriously.
    II. We have established robust communication and collaboration mechanisms with Boeing, emphasizing transparency and accountability. These measures are in place to ensure effective oversight while maintaining a collaborative partnership.
    III. Despite delegated tasks, we maintain ultimate responsibility for ensuring safety. We will continue to uphold the highest standards in our oversight duties.

    Ans. 6. Implementation of Aircraft Certification Safety and Accountability Act (ACSAA):

    I. I am pleased to provide a detailed update on the progress made in implementing specific sections of the ACSAA related to safety and certification.
    II. Key achievements and challenges encountered during implementation have been identified, and we remain committed to addressing them. The collaborative efforts in implementing the ACSAA have already contributed to significant improvements in safety standards.
    III. Our commitment to continued implementation and the pursuit of any necessary legislative adjustments for further improvements is unwavering.

    Ans. 7. Staffing and resources for effective oversight:

    I. Adequate staffing and resources are paramount for effective oversight, and we acknowledge their importance in maintaining a robust safety framework.
    II. We have dedicated resources and staff to aircraft safety oversight, and our current staffing levels and resource allocation reflect our commitment to this crucial aspect of our responsibilities.
    III. Ongoing efforts are in place to recruit and retain qualified personnel, and we are actively seeking necessary funding to support these initiatives.
    IV. We are open to exploring added resource needs based on a comprehensive assessment, ensuring that we have the necessary means to fulfill our oversight responsibilities.

    Ans. 8. Communication between the FAA, Boeing, and airlines:

    I. Clear and transparent communication is of utmost importance, especially during crises. We recognize the need for effective communication to build trust and ensure the safety of the aviation system.
    II. Communication protocols and channels between the FAA, Boeing, and airlines have been established, with a focus on transparency and timely information sharing.
    III. Lessons learned from the 737 Max crisis have guided us in improving our communication processes. We remain committed to ongoing improvements in communication effectiveness and transparency, incorporating the valuable insights gained from past experiences.
    IV. Our dedication to open and transparent communication is unwavering, and we will continue to refine our practices to ensure the highest level of effectiveness during both normal operations and challenging situations.

    Thank you for your attention and commitment to aviation safety. Next, let me address the understaffing and underfing criticalities facing…

  12. An hour and a half into the session, FAA Administrator Whitaker is performing admirably. I find myself increasingly fond of him—well-spoken, thoroughly briefed, and providing clear, concise answers.

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