The FAA chief heads to testify before a Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday on the Boeing (BA) 737 Max, with a bipartisan draft bill on FAA certification reform reportedly circulating. Boeing stock rose.
Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson testifys before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET. According to the committee, Dickson will answer questions about “issues associated with the design, development, certification, and operation” of the Boeing 737 Max. The hearing will also look at ways to reform the certification process.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., have reportedly authored a draft bill to reform the way the FAA certifies new aircraft, according to Reuters. The bill would give the FAA power to hire or let go of employees at aircraft manufacturers performing FAA certification tasks. The FAA would also have authority to appoint safety advisors.
The hearing may also provide investors with more clues as to when the Boeing 737 Max will return to service. The company reportedly plans to run an FAA recertification flight later this month. In late May, Boeing restarted production but then told a key supplier a week later to hold off on some work, suggesting more delays or a slower ramp-up.
The timeline for recertification flights has dragged on. Regulators had to agree on the final fixes and Boeing uncovered new software issues that needed correcting. In February, Dickson said that certification flights would start in a few weeks.
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Boeing 737 Max Culture
Shares edged up 0.2% before the open on the stock market today .
On Tuesday, Boeing stock closed up 3.6% at 197.77 amid optimism about an economic rebound. Top Boeing 737 Max supplier Spirit AeroSystems (SPR) added 1.6%, and engine supplier General Electric (GE) rose 3.2%.
The Boeing 737 Max was involved in two deadly crashes that killed a total 346 people and has been grounded since March 2019. Problems with the complex Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) were blamed for the two crashes. Investigations into Boeing’s certification process further exposed a toxic work culture. Reports said management ignored warnings from some employees that overworked employees were making mistakes amid quality control issues at Boeing’s factories.
Text messages between employees from 2016 suggested that the Dow Jones aerospace giant misled the FAA about the 737 Max’s MCAS system. A test pilot also reportedly complained that he felt pressure from management to ensure the Boeing 737 Max jets wouldn’t require expensive pilot training.
At hearings last year, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle blasted the company’s close relationship with the FAA. A House investigation that began a year ago was released in early March. That report said the FAA “failed in its duty” and that its review of the troubled plane was “grossly insufficient.” The report also called out Boeing for having a “culture of concealment.”
In December, Boeing’s board ousted Dennis Muilenburg as CEO amid criticism of his handling of the crisis and scoldings by regulators for pushing for a quicker return to service for the 737 Max.
Boeing is facing scrutiny from other federal agencies as well. The Securities and Exchange Commission is reportedly investigating the aerospace giant’s financial disclosures related to the jet’s grounding. The Justice Department, FBI and the Transportation Department are probing whether the aerospace giant misled regulators and customers about the jet.
Boeing 737 Max Return Delayed
Last year, the Boeing 737 Max was expected to return to service by January. Then that was pushed back to mid-2020. But now the jet looks to miss the entire summer travel season.
Southwest Airlines (LUV) removed the troubled plane from its schedule through October and American Airlines (AAL) and United Airlines (UAL) are expected to follow suit.
The Dow giant halted production of the Boeing 737 Max in January amid the prolonged grounding as finished jets spilled out into employee parking lots. On May 28, Boeing resumed production at a “low rate” with plans to increase to 31 737 Max jets per month in 2021. That’s down from the 57 jets per month it had earlier expected to build this month.
Follow Gillian Rich on Twitter @IBD_GRich for aviation news and more.
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