FlyersRights attended a recent House Aviation hearing on Boeing’s 787 incidents titled “Lessons Learned.”
Yet all we learned was the FAA allows Boeing to help write its own safety standards, develop its testing protocol and then perform those tests.
The aircraft maker had essentially persuaded the FAA to let them certify their own aircraft so they could save money.
This type of conflict of interest contributed to the grounding of the 787 Dreamliner in January and the speed with which the airplane was approved to return to service.
For decades the FAA had used what it calls “designated airworthiness representatives” to certify that planes meet government safety standards. They were experts chosen and supervised by the agency. But in 2004, the agency changed the process of selecting those designees, ruling that aircraft manufacturers could choose their own employees to certify their planes.
The first problems with Boeing’s lithium-ion batteries emerged in 2006 with a devastating lab fire in Arizona. A single battery was connected to prototype equipment that exploded, burning the whole building down.
Incredibly, Boeing testified that none of its battery tests detected any problems in an April 2013 NTSB hearing.
Given all this, the FAA’s judgement to approve Boeing’s plans to fix the battery seems shortsighted and represents a complete failure of government oversight.
Why was the agency so quick to accommodate Boeing in approving the safety of the airplane, without even knowing the cause of the battery problem?
This calls attention to Boeing’s considerable political clout, wielded by legions of lobbyists, fueled by hefty political campaign contributions and by the company’s importance as a huge employer and the nation’s single largest exporter. Few companies are positioned as well as Boeing to fend off a damaging public investigation.
If the pilots of Boeing’s customers, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, have all recently paused for thought, shouldn’t passengers, operators and Congress?
Looking into military procurements such as the F-35 program, you can easily see similarities where things went wrong, the same way it did in the 787 program.
When the government released the M16 rifle with a “manual forward assist” to help overcome the propensity for feed failures, many of our troops died while desperately pounding on that manual forward assist.
Fix the problem, don’t just slap band-aids on it. This was a near-miss event that should be a major wake-up call. Otherwise a tragedy is likely around the corner.
The flying public deserves better, from Boeing, the FAA and Congress alike.
Kendall Creighton is a guest contributor to Ring of Fire.