US Legislators Inquire If FAA Discovered Ongoing Quality Control Issues At Boeing

A collection of U.S. legislators are seeking answers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding its supervision of Boeing, particularly in light of a recent mid-air emergency involving a 737 MAX 9. They are interested in whether the FAA discovered any significant quality problems with the aircraft manufacturer. The lawmakers, in a letter sent on Wednesday, also inquired if the FAA was considering modifying its oversight of Boeing's and its suppliers' manufacturing processes. This letter was first disclosed by Reuters.


The FAA, responding to a mid-air cabin panel blowout on a new Alaska Airlines MAX 9, has stated it will conduct an audit of all aspects of production at Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems' fuselage production. In the letter, the lawmakers requested FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker to clarify if the agency had found "any signs of ongoing quality control issues in any of Boeing's production lines" either before or after the incident. The letter was signed by Sam Graves, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rick Larsen, the committee's leading Democrat, along with Representative Garret Graves, the aviation subcommittee chair, and Democrat Steve Cohen.

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Whitaker is scheduled to appear before the aviation subcommittee on Tuesday. An FAA spokesperson has stated that the agency will respond to the letter. The letter also questioned whether the FAA was contemplating any alterations to its wider on-site monitoring of Boeing's and its suppliers' manufacturing processes to ensure their products adhere to their type design. It also asked, "What changes, if any, is the FAA considering to its current risk model for inspecting production facilities?"

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The FAA has been closely examining Boeing's quality and other issues in recent years, especially in the lead-up to the MAX certification. After two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019, the FAA grounded the plane for 20 months and required significant software and training enhancements. The FAA has stated that a group of 24 aviation safety inspectors will carry out the new audit at the Boeing 737 facility in Renton, Washington, and at Spirit in Wichita, Kansas. The audit will also look into how Boeing handles unfinished work from suppliers on its production lines. The letter also queried whether the FAA was considering additional measures on Safety Management Systems (SMS) requirements "for aircraft part suppliers or other entities involved in aircraft manufacturing not captured by current regulations." The SMS is a framework of policies and procedures designed to proactively identify and manage potential operational risks early on. Last March, the FAA informed Congress that it was intensifying its oversight of Boeing following two fatal 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019. The FAA grounded 171 MAX 9 jets on Jan. 6, leading to thousands of flight cancellations by Alaska Airlines and United Airlines. The grounding was lifted on Jan. 24. The letter also asked if airlines were receiving the necessary information to ensure they could plan ahead and minimize potential operating disruptions.

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