Aviation Reform Bill Introduced in Response to 737Max Crashes

June 19, 2020 by Reece Nations
Aviation Reform Bill Introduced in Response to 737Max Crashes
Boeing 737 MAX 7 Completes Successful First Flight. (Boeing)

WASHINGTON – Two senators serving on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation introduced legislation designed to improve aviation safety following two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. 

Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the committee, jointly announced the measure which would eliminate the ability of aircraft manufacturers to influence the process of certification. 

The bill, entitled the Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020, is the first U.S. legislation filed in response to the 2018 and 2019 Boeing 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people. Boeing has been unable to resume commercial service of the 737 Max models since grounding the planes worldwide in March 2019. 

“Safety is paramount,” Cantwell said. “A primary goal of this legislation is to make sure the FAA remains in the driver’s seat when it comes to certification.” 

The act would also give the Federal Aviation Administration new authority to hire or remove employees conducting FAA certification tasks. Other provisions of the bill include new whistleblower protections for employees and would require safety management systems for large aircraft and engine manufacturers. 

Requiring the FAA to appoint “Organization Designation Authorization unit members” and develop guidance for technical qualifications for these individuals is another of the bill’s stipulations. This provision aims to hinder manufacturers from pressuring or influencing regulators during the authorization process. 

“Ranking Member Cantwell and I have reviewed the evidence from accident reports, solicited recommendations from aviation experts, spoken to the victims’ families, witnesses, and stakeholders, and held a series of hearings on aviation safety,” Wicker said. “We are introducing bipartisan legislation that would take important steps to improve safety, especially as it relates to the manufacturing of passenger aircraft. I look forward to continuing our work to enhance safety for the flying public and avoid future tragedies.” 

In addition to the whistleblower protections for employees, the act also directs the FAA to maintain a voluntary and anonymous safety reporting program for the administration’s employees to express concerns about aircraft during the certification process. The measure would further require the FAA to review its own expertise to understand the safety implications of any newly adopted technologies, materials and procedures. 

Also included in the legislation are provisions that delve deeper into “human factors” so regulators can assess how pilots respond to cockpit alerts. The act would require the FAA to conduct more research into human factors in regards to design and certification of the aircraft by instituting “flight testing” for a representative sample of international and domestic airline pilots. 

“It’s critically important that the FAA keep pace with skill levels and new technology to oversee the certification process,” Cantwell said. “The Human Factors Center of Excellence and Office of Continuing Education will help ensure FAA inspectors have the expertise they need to do their job.” 

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