An investigation by the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has found that “numerous” FAA safety inspectors had not received enough training to certify pilots, calling into question the operational review of several aircraft including the 737 MAX. The OSC also found “misleading” portrayals of FAA employee training in responses by the agency to congressional inquiries. The OSC has issued letters to the US President and US Congress alerting them to the findings.
“The FAA is entrusted with the critically important role of ensuring aircraft safety,” said special counsel Henry Kerner. “The FAA’s failure to ensure safety inspector competency for these aircraft puts the flying public at risk.”
Safety inspectors are part of the Flight Standardisation Boards, which carry responsibility for ensuring pilot competency by developing training and experience requirements. The FAA requires both classroom training and on-the-job training for safety inspectors and states that on-the-job training “does not substitute for required classroom training.”
During its investigation, the FAA’s independent Office of Audit and Evaluation determined that 16 out of 22 safety inspectors, including those at the Seattle Aircraft Evaluation Group, had not completed their formal training. An additional 11 of the 16 undertrained safety inspectors did not carry FAA Certified Flight Instructor certificates, which is a standard requirement. According to a source, the unqualified inspectors administered hundreds of check rides that qualified pilots to operate new or modified passenger aircraft.
Although training faults were uncovered by the investigation, the FAA provided a reply to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on 4 April. In a follow-up response on 2 May, the FAA claimed the OSC investigation lacked accuracy. “It is not accurate to suggest that this whistle-blower disclosure and the investigation implicated the qualifications of the Boeing 737 MAX Flight Standardisation Board (FSB) and the FSB’s evaluation of the of the MCAS on that aircraft,” it said. “As we clarified in our interim response on 4 April, all of the ASIs who participated in the Boeing 737 MAX FSB certification activities were fully qualified for those activities. The allegations brought to AAE’s by one of the FAA’s ASI’s did not relate to the FSB for the Boeing 737 MAX but focused on the training requirements by the ASIs working on different aircraft. The FAA determined those ASIs who worked on the other aircraft were in fact qualified for duties they performed.”