Investigators find FAA inspectors on MAX and other projects weren’t qualified to do job

The US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has substantiated a whistleblower complaint alleging that FAA safety inspectors who served on the  Boeing 737 MAX Flight Standardization Board (FSB) were not properly credentialed, contradicting earlier claims made by senior FAA officials.

The whistleblower, an FAA aviation safety inspector (ASI),  had alleged that FAA Aircraft Evaluation Group (AEG) ASIs, including inspectors who sat on the FSBs for the 737 MAX and the Gulfstream G500/G600 business jet, had “serious deficiencies” in their training and qualifications.

The complaint noted that 11 out of 17 ASIs in the Seattle AEG had not completed required on-the-job (OJT) and other formal training, including inspectors on the FSB assigned to review and certify the 737 MAX.

Unqualified inspectors administered hundreds of certifications, known as “check rides,” which permit pilots to operate new or modified passenger aircraft, according to the complaint. 

“The FAA is entrusted with the critically important role of ensuring aircraft safety,” Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said in a statement Sept. 23. “The FAA’s failure to ensure safety inspector competency for these aircraft puts the flying public at risk.”

Last spring, in response to a Senate Commerce Committee probe into the allegations, FAA officials told lawmakers in two letters that the “allegations were not about inspectors with the [FSB] for the Boeing 737 MAX, who have their own training requirements.”

“We can assure that all those who participated in the Boeing 737 MAX FSB certification activities were fully qualified for these activities,” the agency  wrote on April 4th to Commerce Committee chairman Senator Roger Wicker.

Internal agency documents and correspondence provided to the OSC by FAA’s Office of Audit and Evaluation (AAE) contradict that claim, however. In its own investigation, the AAE confirmed that 16 out of 22 ASIs, including those at the Seattle AEG, had not completed formal training. Based on information obtained through its investigation, the OSC concluded these unqualified ASIs also included safety inspectors assigned to the 737 MAX.

Sen. Wicker, the Commerce Committee chairman, said the whole process was in effect inadequate.

In a September 23rd letter to US President Donald Trump and the US Congress, the special counsel linked the underqualified safety inspectors with the grounding of the 737 MAX, suggesting it was a factor in the two accidents that killed a combined 346 people.

“The FAA’s failure to ensure inspector competency for these aircraft subjected the flying public to substantial and significant danger … Accordingly, I question the conduct of the agency and I have determined that the agency’s findings, which rely on conflicting documents, do not appear reasonable,” Kerner wrote.

In a statement, FAA said it is reviewing the Special Counsel’s letter. “We remain confident in our representations to Congress and in the work of our aviation safety professionals. Aviation safety is always our foremost priority, and we look forward to responding to the concerns that have been raised.