OIG issues its 3rd Report on Organization Designation Authorization
Congress authorized and revised statutory basis
Boeing 737 Max 8 and ODA
Congress proposes more engineers and training–enought?
The New DOT Inspector General, Eric J. Soskin, has signed off on his office’s third report on the FAA’s Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) which started back in 2009. That’s a lot of Congressionally motivated audits, given that the ODA statutory authority has been reviewed and expanded by both Houses.
The 2021 OIG report repeats many of the prior recommendations, again urging that the FAA act. This iteration may lead to successful implementation because of legislation.
“Results in Brief
“Gaps in FAA guidance and processes impacted certification of the 737 MAX 8.
While FAA and Boeing followed the established certification process for the 737 MAX 8, we identified limitations in FAA’s guidance and processes that led to a significant misunderstanding of MCAS, the flight control software identified as contributing to the Lion and Ethiopian Air accidents. First, FAA’s certification guidance does not adequately address integrating new, advanced technologies into existing aircraft models. For example, FAA’s guidance lacks clarity on assessing aircraft areas that have changed from previous designs. The Agency relies on the manufacturer to identify which changes from previous aircraft models are significant.
As a result, because Boeing did not identify MCAS as significant, FAA did not focus on the system during certification reviews. Second, FAA did not have a complete understanding of Boeing’s safety assessments performed on MCAS until after the Lion Air accident. For example, although Boeing prepared internal documents detailing some safety implications with MCAS, key assumptions related to pilot reaction to the system were not included in certification deliverables that the company submitted to FAA. Finally, communication gaps further hindered the effectiveness of the certification process. FAA’s certification flight test team was aware that Boeing had significantly revised MCAS. However, due to a lack of effective coordination within FAA and between FAA and Boeing, some of FAA’s certification engineers and personnel responsible for approving the level of airline pilot training told us they were unaware of Boeing’s changes to MCAS and their impact. As a result, key FAA personnel lacked an adequate understanding of how and when MCAS activated, its interaction with other key systems on the 737 MAX, and the potential risks associated with multiple erroneous MCAS activations on a flight. These issues limited FAA’s ability to make an informed decision regarding the safety of the aircraft when approving Boeing’s certification and pilot training.
Management and oversight weaknesses limit FAA’s ability to assess and mitigate risks with the Boeing ODA.
FAA certification engineers delegated an increasing amount of 737 MAX certification work to the Boeing ODA during the 2012–2017 certification—as much as 87 percent of certification plans near the end of the process. Since our 2015 report, FAA has taken steps to improve its ODA oversight guidance and has conducted a pilot test of its revised process for risk-based oversight.
However, more than 5 years after our recommendation, FAA has not yet implemented a risk-based approach to ODA oversight, and it remains to be seen how the Agency will incorporate any lessons learned from the 737 MAX accidents into its new approach. Additionally, we found that engineers in FAA’s Boeing oversight office continue to face challenges in balancing certification and oversight responsibilities due to an organizational culture driven by the demand to meet certification schedules and issues with prioritizing oversight, as well as Agency resource gaps. For example, 15 of 24 FAA office managers and personnel we interviewed expressed concerns with the current level of staffing resources and expertise in the office. Further, staff expressed concerns about frequent staff turnover in FAA’s Boeing oversight office potentially leading to a loss of institutional knowledge.
Finally, the Boeing ODA process and structure do not ensure the ODA is adequately independent. We reviewed FAA and Boeing documents regarding Boeing ODA unit members feeling pressure from Boeing company management to approve items or affirm compliance with regulations without sufficient time to perform a review. This pressure could potentially impact aircraft safety and ultimately the flying public. FAA has taken some enforcement and compliance actions against Boeing related to these and other concerns. While the Agency has taken steps to develop a risk-based oversight model and to address the root causes of undue pressure at the Boeing ODA, it is not clear that FAA’s current oversight structure and processes can identify future high-risk safety concerns at the ODA…”
Congress finally recognized the nexus of this problem: Boeing has many, many people (primarily highly degreed and well compensated engineers) and support compared to the FAA Certification Team. Analysis of the legislative history behind the ODA demonstrates that this FAA Auxiliary was created because of this dysfunctional connection between the FAA and the TC applicant, That imbalance of resources is further exacerbated by the competitive pressures on all applicants to produce new aircraft.
Chairman Wicker (R-MS) and Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), addressed that underlying fissure between the two participants in the aircraft certification by their respective draft bills. The salient, most effective (?) of their proposals include the following :
- Authorizes $27,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2021 through 2023 in new appropriations for the FAA to recruit and retain engineers, safety inspectors, human factors specialists, software and cybersecurity experts, and other qualified technical experts who perform duties related to the certification of aircraft, engines, and other components. Clarifies that nothing in this section 2 vests in any exclusive bargaining representative any management right of the FAA Administrator, and any action taken under this section is subject to the availability of appropriations.
- Authorizing a $1,000,000 civil penalty for failing to disclose “safety-critical information” [defined in 250 words in 5 subsections of 49USC] and other failure to communicate.
- Beginning one year after the date of enactment of this Act, requires the FAA Administrator to approve each new individual selected by an ODA holder engaged in the design of an aircraft, aircraft engine, propeller, or appliance before they become an authorized representative (or ODA unit member), who are employees of a manufacturer granted special permission to act on the FAA’s behalf in validating compliance of aircraft systems and designs with FAA requirements [existing Part 183 Subpart J requires that the ODA maintain a manual, available to the FAA, which lists the unit’s employees’ names.].
- Requires new ODA unit members to meet qualifications issued by the Administrator, such as the knowledge, technical proficiency, and moral character of such individual. Authorizes the FAA Administrator to rescind an approval of an approved individual to serve as an ODA unit member at any time, for any reason.
- The bill also would ban other Boeing employees from interfering with the work of employees assigned to the safety operation and allow for communication between front-line FAA and Boeing engineers.
- A separate section in the bill would create a formal appeal system for companies to question safety decisions the FAA makes in the approval process and prohibit agency officials and company executives from communicating about the dispute outside the process.
- The legislation also calls for “cooling off periods” for people moving between private companies and the FAA, restricting new FAA employees from overseeing their former employer for a year.
- And many, many other provisions.
Aspirations for a better ODA has been the theme since the designation’s creation. Now it is incumbent on Administrator Dickson to ensure that the additional funding attracts talented engineers, implement excellent training and strongly advocate the discipline required by SMS. Equally, Boeing President Calhoun leads a campaign within his company from top to bottom to adopt Safety Culture as its #1 priority. Lean manufacturing, as much as economical production is important, must be subservient to SAFETY. As originally contemplated, such mutual competence and comity are required to make ODA meet the highest safety standards!
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