Boeing has more work to do, says US air safety chief

Boeing agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department including S$3.4 billion in fines and compensation stemming from the 737 MAX crashes. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United States air safety chief Steve Dickson told a US congressional panel that Boeing has "more work to do" as the planemaker continues to face scrutiny following two fatal 737 MAX crashes in the space of five months in 2018-2019 that killed 346 people.

"Boeing is not the same as it was two years ago but they have more to work to do," Mr Dickson, who heads the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), told the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday (Nov 3).

"We have reset the relationship with Boeing in no uncertain terms."

Boeing said on Wednesday it "is committed to full transparency and cooperation in all aspects of our relationship with the FAA".

It added: "The ongoing dialogue facilitates continuous improvement in compliance and aviation safety to ensure that commercial aviation remains the world's safest form of transportation."

Mr Dickson's comments came in the face of scrutiny from Congress Senator Maria Cantwell, the committee chairman, disclosed she plans to release a report on aviation whistleblowers by the end of the year.

"Line engineers had early warnings, whether it's the (Boeing) 787 battery issue, or whether it was this issue related to synthetic airspeeds or the complexity of automation and overload of pilots in the system," Ms Cantwell said. "Those line engineers weren't listened to."

Mr Dickson said the FAA is delegating fewer responsibilities to Boeing for aircraft certification. He told the committee the FAA is "demanding more transparency" from manufacturers.

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

Boeing agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department in January including US$2.5 billion (S$3.4 billion) in fines and compensation stemming from the 737 MAX crashes.

Congress in December approved legislation boosting FAA oversight of aircraft manufacturers, requiring disclosure of critical safety information and providing new whistleblower protections.

Ms Cantwell pressed Mr Dickson on whether the FAA can meet all the reform requirements.

"I'm not going to allow the law to be skirted here. This issue is about whether you're going to follow a process that allows us to see the work of the FAA, see that it's completed," Ms Cantwell said.

An FAA survey released in August last year found that some safety employees reported facing strong external pressure from industry and raised alarms that the agency does not always prioritise air safety.

Mr Dickson said on Wednesday he has "made it clear internally that we always do the right thing when it comes to safety - and that I have the workforce's back on that."

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