Aviation experts blast FAA over 737 MAX redesign approval: report

More than 300 people were killed in two 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia (AFP Photo/Mark RALSTON)

Washington (AFP) - Aviation experts slammed US regulators for allowing design changes to Boeing's 737 MAX aircraft that have been implicated in two crashes causing the deaths of more than 300 people, according to press reports.

The Federal Aviation Administration failed to stick to its own rules, followed out-of-date procedures and lacked the manpower and expertise to properly oversee the alterations, a panel of worldwide experts found.

The Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) was put together in March after a 737 MAX run by Ethiopian Airlines crashed, killing all 157 onboard.

That followed the crash of a Lion Air flight that plunged into the ocean off Indonesia in October, with the loss of 189 lives.

The tragedies, linked to issues with a flight handling system unique to the MAX, led to the airliner being grounded and a step-up in oversight of Boeing from the FAA and international regulators.

The FAA came in for harsh criticism from the JATR, which said there was "an inadequate number of FAA specialists" in place to oversee a new design of the 737 MAX and they "had inadequate awareness" of the system implicated in the crashes.

It said officials oversaw design changes "in a way that failed to achieve the full safety benefit."

Their damning 69-page report also found that Boeing had put pressure on some of its staff who had FAA authority to approve the updated designs.

The JATR panel included members of the FAA as well as NASA and other regulators from around the world.

The new report echoed AFP reporting showing company officials and the FAA knew about the issues with the flight handling system, but the US regulators deferred to Boeing and approved the MAX without independently studying or testing the flight system.

A Boeing spokesman said the company appreciated the panel's work and "is committed to working with the FAA in reviewing the recommendations and helping to continuously improve the process and approach used to validate and certify airplanes going forward."

And he repeated the company's previous statement that "Safety is a core value for everyone at Boeing and the safety of the flying public, our customers, and the crews aboard our airplanes is always our top priority."

In response to the report, FAA Administrator Steven Dickson said, "We welcome this scrutiny and are confident that our openness to these efforts will further bolster aviation safety worldwide.

"The accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia are a somber reminder that the FAA and our international regulatory partners must strive to constantly strengthen aviation safety," he added.