U.S. Senators grilled FAA Administrator Steve Dickson on Wednesday during a Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing about alleged lack of response to several requests for emails and other documents related to the certification of the Boeing 737 Max. Upon opening the hearing, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) accused the FAA of keeping the committee “in the dark” since it began its congressional review in July 2019 by failing to respond to more than half of his requests for information.
“Even after we narrowed the scope of our requests significantly, there has been a lack of cooperation,” said Wicker.
Dickson denied the claim, calling Wicker’s characteristic inaccurate. “As I’ve said many times, I am committed to the oversight process,” said Dickson. “I believe it’s inaccurate to portray the agency as unresponsive. We have provided responses in at least seven major subject areas in the July request. There is still ongoing work and I would just point out that we have a number of investigations underway that we’re already supporting…and some of the information requested implicate matters within the investigations and we certainly don’t want to prejudice the outcome of those.”
The heated exchanges on Capitol Hill follow Tuesday’s introduction of legislation by Wicker and Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington centered on strengthening the FAA’s oversight of manufacturers including Boeing. The bill, titled the Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020, includes a mandate for large aircraft and engine manufacturers to introduce safety management systems (SMSs), a requirement that the FAA approve the appointment of Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) members and for the agency to develop guidance for their technical qualifications, and a directive to develop “best practices for ODAs and address reports of undue pressure or regulatory “coziness.”
In all, the bill covers 15 requirements aimed at ensuring FAA independence and authority over manufacturers.
“A primary goal of this legislation is to make sure the FAA remains in the driver’s seat when it comes to certification,” said Cantwell. “This bill makes it clear the FAA is in charge of the certification workforce and the approval process. Additionally, it requires the FAA to act on the NTSB’s recommendations on new safety standards for automation and pilot training.”