FAA chief admits agency was ‘too hands-off’ before Boeing door blowout

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Thursday the agency was “too hands-off” with regulating aircraft manufacturers before a door blew out of a Boeing plane in January, causing weeks of scrutiny into the company’s manufacturing safety.

FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker said in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing about Boeing that his agency “should have had much better visibility” into Boeing’s manufacturing process.

“FAA’s approach was too hands-off, too focused on paperwork audits, and not focused enough on inspections,” he said. “We have changed that approach over the last several months, and those changes are permanent. We have now moved to a more active, comprehensive oversight model, the audit plus inspection model, which allows the FAA to have much better insight into Boeing’s operations.”

The door blowout of a Boeing 737 Max operated by Alaska Airlines, caused by missing bolts, resulted in the grounding of every similar aircraft in the country and mandatory inspections. An investigation into Boeing’s process found a lax safety culture and oversights during manufacturing.

“There are issues around the safety culture in Boeing. Their priorities have been focused on production and not on safety and quality,” Whittaker said in March. “And so, what we are really focused on now is shifting that focus from production to safety and quality.”

The FAA said its six-week audit of Boeing found “multiple instances when the companies allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements.”

The scrutiny has tanked the company’s stock and brought additional scrutiny from Congress. The Justice Department launched a criminal investigation in March, and members of the Senate Commerce Committee have previously promised more oversight.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the committee’s ranking member, said in March more oversight is “unquestionably” needed.

“This is an ongoing issue. Obviously, what has happened with Boeing in recent months is deeply concerning. The NTSB is engaged in investigation dealing with the Alaska Airlines incident. That investigation needs to proceed to conclusion,” he told The Hill.

“The challenges we’ve seen recently have raised real and material concerns and concerns that need to be addressed.”

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