F.A.A. Administrator Says Previous Oversight of Boeing Was ‘Too Hands-Off’

F.A.A. Administrator Says Previous Oversight of Boeing Was ‘Too Hands-Off’


The Federal Aviation Administration’s top official acknowledged on Thursday that the agency failed to adequately oversee Boeing and that it should have had better visibility into the plane manufacturer’s safety practices long before a door panel blew off a plane while it was in flight on Jan. 5.

Mike Whitaker, the agency’s administrator, appeared before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee weeks after Boeing, which has experienced a spate of problems, submitted a comprehensive plan detailing how it would overhaul its quality control practices and safety culture.

“The F.A.A.’s approach was too hands-off, too focused on paperwork audits and not focused enough on inspections,” Mr. Whitaker said. “We have changed that approach over the last several months, and those changes are permanent.”

Mr. Whitaker said the changes included permanently increasing the agency’s use of in-person inspections and barring Boeing from increasing production of its 737 Max jets until the agency is satisfied with the company’s quality control and safety improvements. The F.A.A. will also continue to maintain a presence at the company’s factories and one of its suppliers, Spirit Aerosystems.

Mr. Whitaker said he planned to remain engaged with Boeing’s executives and would personally ensure changes were made. He said he would visit Boeing’s Charleston, S.C., factory this month and make another trip to the Renton, Wash., factory in September.

As part of the 90-day plan that Boeing submitted, the F.A.A. will also meet with the company weekly to ensure that it is hitting the outlined goals.

The hearing was the latest by a congressional committee focused on the aviation sector since the door panel, known as a door plug, blew off during an Alaska Airlines flight shortly after the plane took off from Portland, Ore. The F.A.A. quickly grounded similar Max 9 jets, but allowed them to return to the skies in late January after being inspected. No one was seriously hurt during the incident.

A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board said that four bolts meant to secure the door plug in place were missing before the panel came off the plane. The report outlined a series of events that may have allowed the plane to be delivered to Alaska Airlines without those bolts. Key documents the safety board investigators have been seeking do not exist, Mr. Whitaker said.

In addition to the safety board’s inquiry, the F.A.A. has also opened several investigations into manufacturing issues at Boeing. Mr. Whitaker said they were in the process of reviewing whistle-blower reports the agency had received since the incident.

“We will utilize the full extent of our enforcement authority to ensure Boeing is held accountable for any noncompliance,” he said.

Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington and the chairwoman of the Commerce Committee, called for Mr. Whitaker to make huge safety culture changes at the F.A.A. and put in place some of the same processes and practices the agency is asking of Boeing.

“We need to know what change under your watch, Administrator Whitaker, will restore the proper oversight to manufacturing to achieve the excellence that we want to see at Boeing and other manufacturers, and ensure the F.A.A. is setting the gold standard for safety oversight,” Ms. Cantwell said in her opening remarks.

Boeing’s departing chief executive, Dave Calhoun, is expected to testify before another Senate panel on Tuesday.



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