FAA Let Boeing Sign Its Own Safety Certifications On The 737 Max

Thanks to a ‘broken regulatory process,’ the Federal Aviation Administration has been passing off routine oversight tasks to manufacturers for years. In the case of the beleagured 737 Max, however, the plane was so advanced that the regulator “handed nearly complete control to Boeing,” which was able to sign off on its own safety certificates, according to the New York Times.

The lack of regulatory oversight meant that the FAA had no clue how Boeing’s automated anti-stall system, known as MCAS, worked. In fact, “regulators had never independently assessed the risks of the dangerous software” when they issued a 2017 approval for the plane.

The company performed its own assessments of the system, which were not stress-tested by the regulator. Turnover at the agency left two relatively inexperienced engineers overseeing Boeing’s early work on the system.

The F.A.A. eventually handed over responsibility for approval of MCAS to the manufacturer. After that, Boeing didn’t have to share the details of the system with the two agency engineers. They weren’t aware of its intricacies, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. -New York Times

During the late stages of the Max’s development, Boeing engineers decided to increase the plane’s reliance on MCAS to fly smoothly. Unfortunately, a new version of the system relied on a single sensor which could malfunction and push the plane into a nosedive.

Boeing never submitted a formal assessment of the MCAS system following its upgrade – which wasn’t required by FAA rules. An agency official claims that an engineering test pilot was familiar with the changes, however his job was to evaluate its effect on how the plane flew – not on its safety.

The jet was eventually certified as safe to fly, and the FAA required very little pilot training until the second Max crashed less than five months after the first.