U.S. lawmakers make push for airplane certification reforms

Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are seen parked at Boeing facilities at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington, U.S.

U.S. lawmakers are making a final push in 2020 to win approval of landmark reforms to how the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certifies new airplanes in the wake of two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes, five people briefed on the matter said Saturday.

On Nov. 18, the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously passed a bill to reform how the FAA certifies new airplanes, grant new protections for whistleblowers and bolster misconduct investigations and discipline management at the FAA, among other reforms. The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a similar bill the same week.

Lawmakers hope to attach significant reforms to a massive bill expected to be voted on in coming days that would provide about $900 billion in COVID-19 relief and fund the government’s operations. One congressional aide said “House and Senate committee negotiators on that issue have gotten to a good place on it.”

On Friday, Senate Commerce Republicans released a 102-page report that found Boeing officials “inappropriately coached” test pilots during recertification efforts after the 737 MAX crashes killed 346 people.

The committee said it appeared FAA and Boeing officials “were attempting to cover up important information that may have contributed to the 737 MAX tragedies.”

Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker said the report found “significant examples of lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership in the FAA. It is clear that the agency requires consistent oversight to ensure their work to protect the flying public is executed fully and correctly.”

The FAA said Friday it was “carefully reviewing the document, which the committee acknowledges contains a number of unsubstantiated allegations” and added it was confident safety issues in the two fatal Boeing crashes “have been addressed through the design changes required and independently approved by the FAA and its partners.”

The COVID-19 bill is expected to provide $45 billion in transportation assistance.

Three congressional aides said Saturday funding is likely to include $15 billion for a four-month extension of passenger airlines payroll assistance, $14 billion for public transit agencies, $10-$12 billion for state transportation departments, $1 billion for passenger railroad Amtrak, $2 billion for private motorcoach companies and other transportation providers and $1 billion for airport contractors.

It is possible the final measure could include $2 billion for airports, aides said.

The numbers have changed several times in negotiations and are not final.

One proposal that appears to have been dropped is an effort to help aerospace companies with government assistance to avoid new layoffs.

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