U.S. Senate committee faults FAA oversight of Boeing

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WASHINGTON, Dec 13 (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate report released on Monday said the Federal Aviation Administration must do a better job overseeing Boeing Co (BA.N) and the certification of new airplanes, as well as review allegations raised by seven industry whistleblowers.

The 97-page Commerce Committee report from Senator Maria Cantwell includes concerns raised in the wake of two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes in a five-month period that prompted the plane's 20-month grounding. Congress also passed sweeping reforms in December 2020 to how the FAA certifies new airplanes that the agency is still implementing.

"FAA’s oversight of the certification process has eroded," the report found, saying the agency "over time, increasingly delegated away its authority" to Boeing and others.

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The FAA, the report said, "should take immediate action to address undue pressure at the Boeing" safety oversight office, adding that it is "chronically understaffed."

Boeing said it is reviewing the report. "Boeing teammates are encouraged to speak up whenever they have safety or quality concerns," the planemaker said, adding that many issues in the report "have been previously publicized, and Boeing has worked to address them with oversight" by the FAA.

"FAA’s certification process suffers from undue pressure on line engineers and production staff," the report said. It said the FAA Boeing oversight office lacks enough safety engineers, and it must improve its safety culture.

Cantwell wrote FAA Administrator Steve Dickson asking him to review the "concerns raised by these whistleblowers, and implement necessary changes to improve safety in the aviation industry." She said she plans more hearings on aviation issues in 2022.

The FAA said Monday it "takes all whistleblower allegations seriously and does not tolerate retaliation against those who raise safety concerns."

Cantwell's report also cites whistleblowers who said GE Aviation’s GE9X engine program "suffered from undue pressure on production staff acting on behalf of the FAA." A GE spokesman said the company "thoroughly investigated these claims" and "found no undue influence."

Last month, three U.S. House Democrats asked Dickson to provide more details on the agency's oversight of the Boeing 737 MAX and questioned whether the manufacturer had been held fully accountable.

The Senate report said the 737 MAX crashes and U.S. grounding, lifted in late 2020, "cost Boeing more than $20 billion and inflicted significant reputational harm to the U.S. aviation safety oversight system."

Boeing agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department in January, including $2.5 billion in fines and compensation stemming from the 737 MAX crashes.

Dickson said in November "Boeing is not the same as it was two years ago, but they have more to work to do."

Last month, the acting head of the FAA office that oversees Boeing told the company that appointees performing work for the agency did not have required expertise and some were not meeting FAA expectations.

He said the FAA was delegating fewer responsibilities to Boeing for aircraft certification and was "demanding more transparency" from manufacturers.

The FAA is currently scrutinizing a number of issues involving Boeing airplanes.

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Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler

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