WASHINGTON, DC - Following two deadly crashes involving Boeing's 737 jets, a US government watchdog has asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to strengthen its oversight of high-risk elements on new planes.
A report from the Transportation Department's inspector general has identified shortcomings in the FAA's process for certifying aircraft, particularly its approach to reviewing the integration of new technologies on existing planes, The Associated Press reported.
The report is among several to review FAA oversight of the Boeing 737 Max following the crash of two planes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, which claimed 346 lives.
According to the 63-page report, the U.S. regulator failed to understand a new automated flight-control system, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation Program, or MCAS, installed on the Boeing jets, which investigators have found pushed the nose of the planes down repeatedly, rendering the pilots' attempts to regain control futile.
In their report, Transportation Department auditors said that while FAA test pilots were aware of the changes to the MCAS, some key personnel, including engineers, only began asking questions about it and its safety in January 2019, three months after the first crash in Indonesia and nearly two years after the plane entered service.
The report also questioned the FAA's reliance on aircraft manufacturers for carrying out crucial safety assessments and said regulator needs to do more to ensure the independence of workers conducting such assessments on behalf of manufacturers.
The report also found FAA management and oversight weak and issued 14 recommendations to ensure the safety of passenger planes in the future and restore confidence in the regulator's certification process.
While the FAA said it is taking steps to adopt the recommendations, Boeing said it has already made some improvements, including introducing more training and safety reporting requirements, which have begun to produce results.
The U.S. watchdog's report has been lauded by Congress, which had passed legislation last year to tighten the FAA's oversight of aircraft manufacturers.
Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation Committee which investigated the FAA and Boeing, said the report highlights the "multitude of problems within the current aviation regulatory structure".
"I have been and remain seriously concerned that Boeing was able to put a fatally flawed aircraft into service under the FAA's certification process - a fundamental indictment of the shortcomings of that process," he said, according to The Associated Press.