OIG 737 MAX Audit Finds FAA Process Issues


Problems with the FAA’s certification and delegation processes impacted its oversight of the Boeing 737 MAX, according to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Transportation. In a report released on Tuesday, the OIG noted that the FAA and Boeing followed established processes with regards to certification of the MAX. However, the office found that limitations in FAA guidance and processes led to a “significant misunderstanding” of the aircraft’s maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS), which was identified as a contributing factor in the fatal crashes of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610.

“First, FAA’s certification guidance does not adequately address integrating new technologies into existing aircraft models,” the OIG said in its report (PDF). “Second, FAA did not have a complete understanding of Boeing’s safety assessments performed on MCAS until after the first accident. Communication gaps further hindered the effectiveness of the certification process.”

The report further stated that weaknesses in FAA management and oversight interfered with the agency’s “ability to assess and mitigate risks” related to Boeing’s Organization Designation Authorization (ODA). The OIG put forward 14 recommendations to “improve FAA’s certification and ODA oversight processes” including updating rules to address the integration of technological advances and exceptions, establishing and implementing communication and coordination procedures between Boeing and FAA and revising ODA program requirements. According to the OIG, the FAA has concurred with all of its recommendations along with providing planned completion dates for actions to address them.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. The OIG sure went easy on Boeing and the FAA. Boeing hides from the customer MCAS exists…until the first smoking hole. Then the FAA finds out Boeing drastically changes MCAS parameters from the certified ones to their far different parameters on the production version. That sets of the FAA internal blame game as who is actually minding the certification store.

    Now we have the OIG telling the FAA they lack the guidance to “adequately address integrating new technologies into existing aircraft models”. I feel better now the Office of Inspector General must have the engineering and flying savvy that the FAA they are overseeing lacks. What would they have done different to ensure Boeing did not change MCAS from certification standards to what they included in the production version? In addition, to have the regulatory presence to detect and prevent Boeing from lying by omission to their commercial customers MCAS was even on board the 737 MAX to begin with? 356 families would like to know.

  2. The biggest mistake that Boeing made, just to impress the buyers, was to call the new incorporated system as “maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS)”. This not only made no sense to the pilots, engineers and maybe the FAA. If they would have just named it as “Anti Stall System” or “Automatic Anti Stall System”. The Pilots and engineers would have checked out this new system. BUT who would like to spend time to figure out what ” maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS)” meant.

  3. I agree with both comments. However, inflated language (gobbledygook) and bureaucratese did not
    originate with Boeing, nor was it their biggest mistake. Negligence, born of greed and corruption, is
    neither a design flaw nor a semantic blunder, although it is tied to salesmanship and competition for
    contracts and customers. Granted, OIG is performing belated oversight, but better late than never.
    No doubt the change in administration allowed them to loosen their tongues, as it lessened the grip
    of certain corporate interests upon the aviation industry. But that may only be temporary. In DOT
    circles, good cops are rare, and tough cops are an anomaly. Either way, Boeing may not be able to
    buy or bribe (“wine and dine”) anyone into compliance and submission, now that their own financial
    condition is imperiled. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer; but a poor little rich conglomerate
    is a spiralling contradiction: which means, it won’t fly again, or get off the ground, unless it is fixed.