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Representative DeFazio taking on Boeing

Summary:
Taking on Boeing, A senior manager for Boeing’s 737 MAX program testimony about Boeing manufacturing issues and its supply chain. The fatal MAX 8 crashes occurred in 2018 and 2019. He decided to speak up publicly and was then called to testify before Congress on the problems he says he saw up close. The story is at Politico and is accessible. I wanted to read the Congressional Investigation hearing. Below is part of it and an easy read. I have italicized parts of it which I thought to be important. I will add to this with another post or more as needed . . . an easy read. I do not fly Boeing either. Instead, we fly the AirBus A320 as it is roomier than Boeing’s available planes. Note the issues called out by Representative DeFazio.

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 Taking on Boeing,

A senior manager for Boeing’s 737 MAX program testimony about Boeing manufacturing issues and its supply chain.

The fatal MAX 8 crashes occurred in 2018 and 2019. He decided to speak up publicly and was then called to testify before Congress on the problems he says he saw up close. The story is at Politico and is accessible. I wanted to read the Congressional Investigation hearing. Below is part of it and an easy read.

I have italicized parts of it which I thought to be important. I will add to this with another post or more as needed . . . an easy read. I do not fly Boeing either. Instead, we fly the AirBus A320 as it is roomier than Boeing’s available planes.

Note the issues called out by Representative DeFazio. More Later.

Representative Peter DeFazio

Mr. DeFazio: With that, then, I would recognize myself for

the first round of questions.

    Administrator Dickson, we know you weren’t there. But

obviously, I expect that you and your staff have put a

substantial amount of energy into trying to determine what

happened and how it happened, as you are charged with making it

work right in the future.

    So I have got to ask about this TARAM1 analysis, which was

done on December 3, 2018. Again, you weren’t there. Mr. Bahrami

was there. He was head of safety. And he met with me and Mr.

Larsen and I can’t remember who else might have been there, and

told us this was a one-off accident in February.

    Yet this analysis, which I thought the staff was going to

put up, was–thank you–was available at that time. He

apparently says he was unaware of it. He knew there was such a

process, but he didn’t know they had evaluated this plane and

this system. But this analysis says that–this is post-Lion

Air–that in the lifetime of these aircraft, in operation, they

predicted there would be a potential of 15 fatal crashes.

Mr. DeFazio [continuing]. I am not aware of any other

certified transport aircraft that has such an analysis. I mean,

the normal analysis is 10 to the minus 9. This far exceeds

that. And I question why, given this TARAM–and I don’t know

where it went since it didn’t go to the head of safety–why the

aircraft wasn’t grounded once this analysis was done, as

opposed to allowing the plane to fly while Boeing worked on a

fix.

    We have talked a lot about being a data-driven organization

with you and former Administrator Elwell when we had the second

incident, when the plane stayed up yet for another couple of

days, and the assumptions that were made here is only 1 out of

100 pilots wouldn’t react properly and effectively in that 10-

second period. Yet in the two instances extant–well, there

were actually three. There was a triggering, which was

recovered, in Indonesia. Then there was a triggering which

wasn’t recovered, and then Ethiopia. So we have essentially a

33-percent success rate. But even after the first, we had a 50-

percent success rate.

    I am just wondering, I mean, in retrospect do you think it

should have been grounded after Lion Air, given this TARAM

analysis?

    Mr. Dickson. Well, thank you for your question, Mr.

Chairman. And I will say at the outset, as you noted, I was not

at the FAA when this analysis was done. However, I want to

advocate for my people. And they need–we are a data-driven

organization, as you said, and I know this–with all due

respect, any indication that any level of accidents is

acceptable in any analysis is not reflective of the 45,000

dedicated professionals at the FAA, whether they are involved

in air traffic or aviation safety. So I want to make that

abundantly clear. That is absolutely our highest priority.

    Having said that, the reason that we have the safest

airspace in the U.S. in the world has been through decades of

developing data systems and decisionmaking tools that will

allow us to make the best decisions, and prioritize in the

interests of safety.

    So remember, the information that was available at the time

was we really didn’t know what the root cause of the accident–

    Mr. DeFazio. If I could, Mr. Administrator, I understand.

But I have only got 10 minutes, and I have at least a couple

other questions.

    So OK, you are not going to say anything definitive. I

would hope you would look into the distribution—-

    Mr. Dickson. Of course.

    Mr. DeFazio [continuing]. Of this TARAM. It didn’t come to

the attention of the head of safety, he tells us, so I don’t

know where it went or who had access to it and what they may

have advocated. I think it is a pretty critical thing. And

again, I am not aware of any other aircraft where this sort of

analysis has found something that is going to cause crashes

inevitably and been allowed to fly. I mean, it just doesn’t

meet your standards. So I appreciate the fact that you are

going to look into that and refuse that.

    Now, I want to ask, again, I am concerned about Boeing’s

influence over–particularly, it seems like this all stops in

the regional offices. We will find out with further interviews

with FAA employees. But again, with 7 hours with Mr. Bahrami,

he is not aware of any of the issues we raised outside that

were–where decisions were made up in Washington State.

And there are two issues regarding lightning protection on

the 787, where the plane was certified for production with the

lightning protection. Boeing decided to strip the lightning

protection off, and after they produced 40 airplanes, they came

to the FAA and said, “Oh, by the way, you certified it with

lightning protection. We have taken it off. We would like you

to change your decision that it is necessary.” And again,

safety analysts objected, and they were overruled by a local

manager.

    And then the rudder: The rudder issue was actually seven

safety analysts said, “No, you need to relocate the rudder

controls,” and we do have photos of what happens when you lose

rudder controls on an airplane, particularly on climb-out or at

a critical time. I wish the staff would put that slide up,

please, if they are listening. And that is a critical thing.

    Mr. DeFazio [continuing]. And they were upheld at two

levels of review. So in total, we had 14 people at the FAA say,

they should relocate or better protect the rudder controls in

the wing, given this large new engine and the potential for

uncontained failure and fragmentation. And they were overruled

by a single manager, apparently again at the local level.

    This causes concern on my part, that there doesn’t seem to

be–and we haven’t found yet–that there are levels of review

beyond the local office. Are you going to be looking at that

issue or problem as part of a solution?

    Mr. Dickson. Yes. Well, thank you for the question, Mr.

Chairman. And I think that it is important to understand that

as we work through these processes and when you have technical

people involved in discussions, these processes by design

encourage debate. And there are differences of opinion as we

work through the processes.

    And ultimately, remember that the managers who were

involved in these decisions are themselves, are themselves

experts, and there are times when they may have been overruled.

And it is not a matter, in my view, of what the applicant, or

the manufacturer in this case, wants.

    It is really a matter of letting the process work. And

ultimately, the decision needs to be made on behalf of the

agency, and on occasion, that maybe the manager that has a

broader view that may be able to make that decision. I do think

that there are some improvements that we can put in place.

Aviation safety is working, as I mentioned, on just—-

    Mr. DeFazio. Thank you, Mr. Administrator. And one last

question–I am running out of time and do not want to abuse my

privileges here–Boeing self-certified and installed defective

slats on 137 applications, and you just announced a $4 million

civil fine for this deliberate abuse. And we have heard a lot

of other things about production pressures, and we will hear

more about that from the second panel.

    I am concerned that will you look at these issues. And also

we will hear from the second panel about concerns about whether

or not sensors were installed, the AOA sensors installed

properly because of production pressures, calibrated properly

because of production pressures. Again, I have concern.

    Again, and I do not get the sense thus far that you are

ready to go there, that we may have a captive regulatory

problem in the field offices. Because there are an awful lot of

decisions that have gone in Boeing’s favor, overruling a whole

lot. The 787 had a safety specialist say, “Hey, you can’t put

a lithium battery in that plane without putting it in a steel

box and venting it over the side.” Overruled. Guess what? The

plane gets grounded for 2 months because, hey, you have got to

put it in a steel box and vent it over the side.

    There have been an awful lot of people who seem to have

been pressing it and right, and the question is, maybe this

needs to go beyond the local office when we are talking about

safety-critical systems.

    And with that, I have run out of time. But I hope you will

look at that issue. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Administrator.

Notes:

  1. The Transport Airplane Risk Assessment Methodology (TARAM) is a process for calculating risk associated with continued operational safety issues in the U.S. transport airplane fleet. TARAM is important because its risk-analysis calculations are used when making determinations of unsafe conditions in transport airplanes and when selecting and implementing corrective actions. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022.
  2. THE BOEING 737 MAX: Examining the Federal Aviation Administration’s Oversight of the Aircraft’s Certification. Congress.gov | Library of Congress, December 11, 2029.

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