Captain Sullenberger on FAA and Boeing: “Our credibility as aviation leaders is damaged”

For much of the history of powered flight, the United States has been a world leader in aviation.

This country’s aviation regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has long been the gold standard for global aviation safety regulations, often a model for other countries to follow. in technical and safety matters.

Boeing BA,
-0.87%
has long been the world’s leading aircraft manufacturer.

But now our credibility as aviation leaders is being challenged. Boeing and the FAA have been at fault in this ugly saga that began years ago but has come home to roost with two terrible fatal crashes, with no survivors, in less than five months, on a new guy aircraft, the Boeing 737 Max 8, something unprecedented in the history of modern aviation.


“For too many years, the FAA has not received sufficient budgets to provide proper oversight of a rapidly growing global aviation industry.”

For too many years, the FAA has not received sufficient budgets to provide proper oversight of a rapidly growing global aviation industry. There was not enough staff for FAA employees to oversee much of the crucial work of aircraft certification validation and approval. Instead, much of the work was contracted out by designating aircraft manufacturer employees to do the work on behalf of the FAA. This, of course, has created inherent conflicts of interest, when the employees working for the company whose products must be certified to meet safety standards are the ones who do much of the certification work. There simply aren’t enough FAA employees to do this important work in-house.

Also see: FAA on Boeing 737 Max: “Consistently Produced Safe Aircraft Designs” certification process

To make matters worse, there is too close a relationship between industry and regulators. And in too many cases, FAA employees who rightly called for tighter adherence to safety standards and more rigorous design choices have been rejected by FAA management, often under pressure from the business or politics.

Let’s be clear, without effective leadership and the support of the political leadership in the administration, the FAA does not have sufficient independence to be able to do its job of keeping air travelers and crews safe. Oversight must mean responsibility, or it means nothing.


“Boeing, when developing the 737 Max 8, clearly felt intense competitive pressure to bring the new aircraft to market as quickly as possible. ”

Boeing, in developing the 737 Max 8, clearly felt intense competitive pressure to bring the new aircraft to market as quickly as possible. When flight tests revealed an issue with certification standards compliance, they developed a fix, the Maneuver Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), but did not notify airline pilots. By mitigating one risk, they seem to have created another, greater risk.

After the Lion Air 610 crash last October, it was obvious that this new risk needed to be effectively addressed. It has been reported that Boeing has pushed back discussions with the FAA on the extent of the changes that would be necessary, and after the second crash of the Ethiopian 302, the Boeing CEO contacted US President to try to prevent the 737 Max 8 from being grounded in the United States. The new fix has yet to be rolled out, nearly five months after Lion Air. It almost certainly could have been done earlier, and should have been.

See also: Here’s what Wall Street hopes for Boeing in the wake of the 737 Max grounding

Boeing has focused on its efforts to protect its product and defend its position, but the best, if not the only, way to truly protect its brand or product is to protect the people who use it. We must not forget that the basis of business, what makes business possible, is trust.

It is estimated that Boeing will likely face additional costs of billions of dollars as a result of these recent accidents and the decisions made several years ago that led to them. This case is a validation of something that I have understood for a long time, that there is a strong business case for quality and safety, that it is always better and cheaper to do it right instead of doing it right. wrong and try to repair the damage after the fact, and when lives are lost, there is no way to repair the damage.

And in this ultra-competitive global aviation industry, in terms of costs, nothing costs more than an accident. Nothing.

Captain “Sully” Sullenberger is a safety expert, author and speaker on leadership and culture. He is also a retired airline pilot who on January 15, 2009 safely landed US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River in New York City when both engines lost power after being struck by a fly of ‘birds. All 155 people on board survived.

Barron’s Group Experts is a commentary series produced by Barron’s and MarketWatch.




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