March 20, 2019 / 9:00 PM / 5 months ago

U.S. Senate panel to first grill FAA, then Boeing after fatal crashes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel plans a hearing on March 27 on aviation safety after two fatal Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft crashes since October, and said it will also schedule a future hearing with Boeing and other manufacturers, officials said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Airplane engine parts are seen at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

The hearing on federal oversight on commercial aviation by the Senate Commerce subcommittee on aviation and space will include the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) acting administrator Dan Elwell, National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt and Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel, the committee confirmed.

Federal prosecutors are investigating the FAA’s certification of the Boeing 737 MAX that was grounded last week by regulators around the world.

The panel chaired by Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, said that “in light of the recent tragedy in Ethiopia and the subsequent grounding of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, this hearing will examine challenges to the state of commercial aviation safety, including any specific concerns highlighted by recent accidents.”

A second hearing on aviation safety is planned “in the near future to hear from industry stakeholders that would include Boeing, other aviation manufacturers, airline pilots, and other stakeholders,” the committee said.

Boeing Co, the world’s biggest planemaker, faces growing obstacles to returning its grounded 737 MAX fleet to the skies, while details emerged of an Indonesian crash last October with potential similarities to the Ethiopian disaster on March 10.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he would nominate Steve Erickson, a former Delta Air Lines executive to head the FAA. Elwell, the deputy administrator, has run the agency on an acting basis for 14 months.

A House panel also is expected to hold hearings in the aftermath of the fatal crashes. Boeing did not immediately comment Wednesday.

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who piloted a flight to land safely on the Hudson River in New York in 2009, said in an op-ed Tuesday the FAA has a “too cozy” relationship with industry.

“In too many cases, FAA employees who rightly called for stricter compliance with safety standards and more rigorous design choices have been overruled by FAA management, often under corporate or political pressure,” he wrote.

Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker

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