Regulators must address conflicts of interest
Boeing’s 737 MAX will certainly fly again in commercial operations. Read More » When that will be depends on approval of software updates to the anti-stall system alleged to be responsible for the fatal Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes by regulators around the world and airlines flying the aircraft.
In its latest update, Boeing said it had completed development of the update, associated simulator testing and its engineering test flight. Company crews had flown the updated software on the MAX for more than 360 hours on 207 flights, it announced.
“We are now providing additional information to address Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requests that include additional detail on how pilots interact with the airplane controls and displays in different flight scenarios,” Boeing said.
“Once the requests are addressed, we will work with the FAA to schedule its certification test flight and submit final certification documentation.”
Clearly, mistakes have been made. Several U.S. government agencies, including the FBI and a senate committee, are conducting investigations. No doubt they will draw conclusions about what has gone wrong.
But there is concern about current certification standards that goes beyond the U.S. and the FAA. How widespread is the practice of regulators essentially seconding their responsibilities to aircraft manufacturers and airlines to conduct the oversight and approvals necessary to enable certification and airline operations of aircraft?
To what extent is it happening in Europe with Airbus? Is it a common practice as many industry insiders claim? An example in Asia was Garuda Indonesia’s seconding of some of its safety experts to the regulator because the government agency did not have adequate numbers of trained staff.
These practices amount to airline employees overseeing their own employer. It can be argued that people in such a position carry out their duties responsibly. But in today’s highly competitive world subtle pressures can be applied to speed up processes or rubber stamp new systems, perhaps because of economic factors.
It is an issue that must be put under the microscope. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) should regulate to ensure its members – the world’s regulators – sufficiently staff their operations to carry out the work of conducting careful oversight of the industry, including airframe manufacturers, without resorting to passing on the duties to company employees.
Associate editor and chief correspondent
Orient Aviation Media Group