US aviation authorities to toughen up oversights
The United States' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will significantly change its oversight approach to air safety by July 2019, US Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel said in written testimony reviewed by Reuters ahead of a US Senate panel hearing.
At the same hearing, the FAA's acting administrator, Dan Elwell, will tell a Senate Commerce Committee panel the agency's oversight approach must "evolve" after two fatal crashes involving Boeing Co 737 MAX passenger jets since October.
The accidents, which killed nearly 350 people, triggered the worldwide grounding of Boeing's flagship aircraft and ignited a debate over the proper balance between man and machine in piloting the latest version of the 50-year-old 737.
Meanwhile, Boeing's main rival Airbus saw its shares rise yesterday after the European planemaker won a deal worth tens of billions of dollars to sell 300 aircraft to China.
Airbus shares have risen nearly 40pc so far in 2019. French officials said the deal was worth €30bn at catalogue prices. Planemakers usually grant significant discounts.
Back in the US, Mr Scovel's testimony for the hearing, set for today, says that in response to a 2015 inspector general report, the FAA agreed to improve its oversight of organisations' performing certifications on its behalf.
By July the "FAA plans to introduce a new process that represents a significant change in its oversight approach," Mr Scovel says in his prepared remarks.
"While revamping FAA's oversight process will be an important step, continued management attention will be key to ensure the agency identifies and monitors the highest-risk areas of aircraft certification," he wrote, adding that some issues including how pilots get training to respond when automated flight systems require the FAA's "urgent attention".
Mr Elwell will also say the 737 Max will return to service "only when the FAA's analysis of the facts and technical data indicate that it is appropriate".
Elwell's testimony discloses that Boeing first submitted its proposed anti-stall software upgrade to the FAA for certification on January 21 and that the FAA has tested "this enhancement to the 737 Max flight control system in both the simulator and the aircraft".
Boeing is expected as early as today to unveil more details of the software upgrade. The company said it would carefully monitor the hearing.