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FAA says Boeing is appointing people lacking expertise to oversee airplane certification

FAA chief Steve Dickson. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times/TNS)

The Federal Aviation Administration is concerned that Boeing is appointing engineers to act as internal representatives of the FAA who lack the required technical expertise or knowledge of the procedures they must use to get agency approval of designs.

An FAA letter of complaint to Boeing, the latest in a series this year from the local office that oversees the jetmaker, states that many of the Boeing appointees the agency interviewed this summer “are not meeting FAA expectations.”

In a statement Wednesday, Boeing said it respects the FAA’s oversight role and intends to strengthen the selection process for such appointees and more broadly its oversight certification.

“We’re committed to ensuring the highest levels of safety and quality in all that we do, and that includes the important work of Boeing employees who are designated as authorized representatives,” Boeing said.

The FAA is criticizing the quality of Boeing employees who are authorized to act on the FAA’s behalf, overseeing airplane certification efforts. The FAA delegates to them much of the work of making sure tests are completed and that all designs comply with regulations.

Investigations into the botched certification of the 737 Max — which approved a fatally flawed flight control system with minimal oversight  —  severely criticized how this system worked, and Congress in December enacted legislation requiring changes.

The FAA letter, dated Nov. 2, and addressed to Tom Galantowicz, Boeing vice president for product and services safety, lists a series of failures to meet FAA requirements among the engineers Boeing appointed to act on the agency’s behalf.

—Some lacked “direct experience requiring expertise in the general certification process.”

—Some were not “cognizant of related technical requirements and problems related to civil aircraft approval.”

—Some did not know the “technical and procedural requirements involved in obtaining such approvals.”

Furthermore, the FAA complained of weaknesses in the Boeing panels that appointed these engineers. These panels “have not demonstrated an independent assessment of a candidate’s experience and technical capability.”

Instead, the letter states, in many cases the candidate’s direct manager and another person who had been mentoring the engineer were members of the panel.

The FAA said this made the appointment process closer to the end point of training for the post, instead of being an independent validation that the candidate had made the grade.

The FAA letter was signed by Ian Won, the acting manager for aviation safety of the FAA’s local office that oversees Boeing, and Dr. Melisa Sandow, the FAA’s system oversight manager.

This is the latest in a series of letters from Won’s office this year critical of Boeing’s safety and certification procedures.

In May, Won denied Boeing permission to move forward with a key step in certifying its forthcoming 777X airplane until it provides more data and testing.

In August, another letter from Won said an investigation had found a substantial number of engineers who do certification work for the FAA are concerned about management pressure and that the FAA would therefore conduct an independent survey of all such engineers.

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