Among the many claims made by Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg that does not pass the smell test is the one he made on Tuesday, asserting that America’s broken process for certifying the airliners is in fact, enhancing air safety. Boeing has attained never-before-levels of autonomy in self-certifying the airworthiness of its designs after lobbying Congress for that authority and in fact, actually helping to write the new laws, according to The New York Times.
“The creation of the delegate authority has enhanced safety,” Muilenburg told members of the Senate’s Commerce Committee on Tuesday. “There has been a 90 percent improvement in safety, a portion of that I believe can be attributed to the delegation process.”
Nevermind that this “90-percent improvement in safety” is devoid of context that would make it meaningful, Muilenberg’s belief that the FAA has done us all a favor by ceding its oversight to manufacturers is sheer nonsense.
By any objective measure, commercial aviation is safe. The reasons for this are many as I reported for Travel + Leisure several years ago. But I can find no study that examines the role of delegating certification authority in safety. Simple logic suggests its an independent view that results in safer designs because it is free of business pressures and creators’ bias.
The members of the Senate Commerce Committee seem to be warming to this idea. During the second half of its hearing, Chris Hart, chairman of the Joint Authorities Technical Review of the 737 Max accidents and NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt both indicated certification practices could use some tweeking.
“In the two accident flights”, Sumwalt said of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines disasters, “pilots did not perform in accordance with the scenario that Boeing expected.”
One must wonder if the FAA had understood and challenged Boeing’s assumptions, would that have prevented the crashes that together killed 346? If new oversight of manufacturers’ delegated authority is the result of Congressional scrutiny now underway, Muilenburg may be able to claim in the future that the failure of self-certification led to safer skies.
Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Crash Detectives, I am also a journalist, public speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.