By Doug Cameron 

U.S. aviation regulators need to strengthen their oversight of aircraft safety even after reforms undertaken in the wake of the two Boeing Co. 737 MAX crashes that claimed 346 lives, a government report has concluded.

An examination of the certification of the MAX also revealed that Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration still have a flawed relationship, which could hinder identifying future safety challenges, the Transportation Department's inspector general said in a second report on the matter.

The FAA has agreed to implement 14 recommendations in the report, including how it addresses innovations introduced to existing aircraft designs and improved communication with Boeing. The agency received a draft version of the report in December.

The warning over ongoing issues comes during changes in global regulation of the aviation industry that include less reliance on approvals in an aircraft's country of manufacture.

Boeing has had to push back the introduction of its newest jetliner, the 777X, partly because of extended certification issues related to the wide-body plane, the company said last month.

Many of the problems in the certification of the MAX, the latest iteration of a 50-year old aircraft design, relate to how the FAA delegates oversight to Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers, a process known as Organization Delegation Authorization, or ODA, according to the report.

The inspector general's report said the process wasn't adequately independent, referencing documents regarding regulatory staff embedded in the company "feeling pressure" from Boeing management when overseeing aircraft programs.

"It is not clear that FAA's current oversight structure and processes can identify future high-risk safety concerns at the ODA," the report said.

Boeing hosted 47 FAA staff involved in safety oversight of its aircraft programs, and the relationship between them, the company and the agency formed the bulk of concerns expressed in the report.

The report said the FAA relies on Boeing "to identify which changes from previous aircraft models are significant."

Boeing said it had made organizational, training and compliance changes after cooperating with the latest review. "We have undertaken significant changes to reinforce our safety practices, and we have already made progress on several of the recommendations outlined in the final report," the company said.

The latest findings reiterate those in the initial report in June that safety fixes after the first 737 MAX crash in October 2018 became snarled in FAA delays and repetitive analyses, wasting any chance U.S. regulators had to prevent the second fatal accident in March 2019.

One key issue is that FAA procedures didn't adequately address how to combine new technology onto existing aircraft. The report said that led the agency to "a significant misunderstanding" until after the first accident of the automated MCAS flight control system linked to both MAX crashes.

A final review by the inspector general will focus on FAA actions taken during the decision to ground the aircraft and return it to service.

Write to Doug Cameron at doug.cameron@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 24, 2021 20:44 ET (01:44 GMT)

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