U.S. FAA moves to protect safety employees from planemaker interference

FILE PHOTO: The new Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner sits on the tarmac before a delivery ceremony to Singapore Airlines at the Boeing South Carolina Plant in North Charleston

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Wednesday it had finalized a policy to protect aviation employees who perform government certification duties from interference by airplane manufacturers including Boeing and others.

Congress in December 2020 approved legislation boosting FAA oversight of aircraft manufacturers, requiring disclosure of critical safety information and providing new whistleblower protections in the wake of two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people and led to the plane's 20-month U.S. grounding.

A December 2021 Senate report found "FAA’s certification process suffers from undue pressure on line engineers and production staff."

The FAA said the final policy, first released as a draft in February, requires companies including Boeing "to monitor, report and investigate all allegations of interference and to report the results to the FAA. It also establishes a clear path for these industry employees to speak freely with FAA certification officials at any time."

The FAA said it is also seeking nominations for a 24-member expert panel required by Congress that will review the safety culture of companies, including Boeing.

In May, the FAA opted to renew Boeing's Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program for three years rather than the five years Boeing sought.

The FAA, which delegates some tasks to Boeing under a long-standing program, said it would ensure employees can "act without interference by company officials."

Boeing said Wednesday it "fully supports efforts to enhance transparency and independence in the ODA program," and that it continues to "work with the FAA to ensure our ODA unit members can perform their vital roles without interference."

The FAA continues to inspect all new Boeing 737 MAXs and 787s before they can be delivered.

In November, the FAA told Boeing some appointees performing work for FAA did not have required expertise and were not meeting FAA expectations.

As of October, the FAA has installed advisors for industry employees performing safety duties on FAA's behalf and is approving all industry employees acting on FAA's behalf.

(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Bernadette Baum)