Expert Panel Endorses Max Cert Process, Calls for Upgrades

 - January 16, 2020, 11:37 AM

A special committee to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft certification process established to investigate alleged certification process weaknesses exposed by the twin crashes of the Boeing 737 Max found the FAA’s certification procedures generally effective, according to a report published by the Department of Transportation Thursday. However, the panel cited an opportunity for improvement in “multiple areas” and called for a requirement for manufacturers to adopt safety management systems. The committee, formed last April by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, outlines “numerous” consensus findings and more than a dozen unanimous recommendations.

Along with a broader requirement for safety management systems (SMS) for design and manufacturing organizations, the report calls for the expansion of system safety assessments (SSA), closer and more specified coordination among different FAA offices, and an expansion of the FAA’s “global engagement and influence.”

Expansion of SSAs—what the committee called an essential component of so-called safety risk management—would better assess human-machine interaction, the committee concluded. “The FAA should consider removing exclusions for skill-related errors associated with manual control of the airplane and ensure crew interaction with automated systems active in manual flight are systematically assessed,” said the report. “Current guidelines recommend that human factors be considered when the system is new or novel, complex, and/or integrated. In the future, the FAA should enhance standards to ensure that systematic human factor analyses are conducted for all safety-critical functions and failure modes associated with a change under the changed product rule (14 CFR 21.101).”

Other recommendations include “aggressive” development of the FAA workforce to meet evolving industry needs, “enhancement” of the FAA’s system of delegation within the certification process, and clarification and updating FAA policies on amended type certificates.

While the committee found that the FAA’s certification process for the 737 Max appropriate, it did raise the question of whether or not the decision to allow for an amended type certificate—rather than an entirely new TC—might have produced a safer aircraft. “The answer from the experts was consistent,” said the report, referring to a survey of so-called stakeholders. “Each said a new TC would not have produced more rigorous scrutiny of the 737 MAX 8 and would not have produced a safer airplane.”

However, the committee also called for a requirement for consideration of the interface between a changed item and the rest of the system, as well as the effect of multiple changes over time, including their combined effect on the flight crew’s ability to safely manage tasks.