737 Max Inspectors Undertrained, Says Special Counsel’s Office

 - September 24, 2019, 3:41 PM

A U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) investigation triggered by a whistleblower complaint has found that “numerous” Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors had not received sufficient training to certify pilots, calling into question the operational review of several aircraft including the Boeing 737 Max. The OSC also found “misleading” portrayals of FAA employee training in responses by the agency to congressional inquiries. The OSC has sent letters to President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress alerting them of the findings, an OSC release dated Wednesday disclosed.  

“The FAA is entrusted with the critically important role of ensuring aircraft safety," said special counsel Henry Kerner. “The FAA's failure to ensure safety inspector competency for these aircraft puts the flying public at risk.”

Safety inspectors participate in Flight Standardization Boards, which carry responsibility for ensuring pilot competency by developing training and experience requirements. FAA policy requires both formal classroom training and on-the-job training for safety inspectors and states that on-the-job training “does not substitute for required classroom training.”  

In its investigation, the FAA's independent Office of Audit and Evaluation (AAE) determined that 16 out of 22 safety inspectors, including those at the Seattle Aircraft Evaluation Group, had not completed formal training. Further, 11 of the 16 undertrained safety inspectors did not carry FAA CFI (certified flight instructor) certificates—a basic position requirement. Based on information provided by the whistleblower and material obtained via an ongoing investigation, that included safety inspectors assigned to the 737 Max. According to the whistleblower, the unqualified inspectors administered hundreds of check rides that qualified pilots to operate new or modified passenger aircraft.

Despite the training deficiencies uncovered by the investigation, the FAA provided a response to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on April 4. In a further response on May 2, the FAA claimed the OSC probe lacked factual merit. "It is not accurate..to suggest that this whistleblower disclosure and investigation implicated the qualifications of the Boeing 737 MAX Flight Standardization Board (FSB) and the FSB's evaluation of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) on that aircraft," it said. "As we clarified in our interim response to you on April 4, all of the ASls who participated in the Boeing 737 MAX FSB certification activities were fully qualified for those activities. The allegations raised to AAE by one of the FAA 's ASI's did not relate to the FSB for the Boeing 737 MAX, but rather concerned the fulfillment of training requirements by ASls working on a different aircraft. Furthermore, it is important to note that upon review, the FAA determined those ASls who worked on the other aircraft were in fact qualified for the activities they performed."