Capping off what has been a difficult week for Boeing, the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR), an international panel of air safety regulators, slammed the aerospace giant on Friday over its allegedly inadequate review of the 737 MAX 8's safety systems that were tied to the two deadly crashes that killed 346 people.
The agency was asked by the FAA back in April to look into the oversight and approval process for the 737 MAX 8, which, thanks to a flood of leaks that have emerged between now and then, has been shown to have involved several serious lapses. Particularly where the MCAS anti-stall system was involved.
That system has been connected to the crashes in the months since the second plane went down in March, triggering the worldwide grounding of the 737 MAX.
JATR confirmed that the FAA's oversight of MCAS was seriously lacking.
"The JATR team found that the MCAS was not evaluated as a complete and integrated function in the certification documents that were submitted to the FAA," the 69-page series of findings and recommendations said. "The lack of a unified top-down development and evaluation of the system function and its safety analyses, combined with the extensive and fragmented documentation, made it difficult to assess whether compliance was fully demonstrated."
The report comes as regulators around the world look into Boeing's software changes and training revisions, and more claim they might delay the plane's return to service to carry out additional screening even after the FAA has given Boeing the green light.
The plane, which is Boeing's workhorse and its top-selling model, has been grounded since March 10, after an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed minutes after taking off from the Addis Ababa airport, killing all 157 people on board. Six months earlier, a 737 MAX operated by Indonesia's Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea minutes after taking off.
US airlines have pushed back their expectations on when the planes might return to service to next year as the true extent of the FAA's oversight becomes apparent. Here's more from the JATR report, which questioned the FAA's "limited staffing" and "inadequate number of FAA specialists" involved in the certification process.
"With adequate FAA engagement and oversight, the extent of delegation does not in itself compromise safety," the report said.
"However, in the B737 MAX program, the FAA had inadequate awareness of the MCAS function which, coupled with limited involvement, resulted in an inability of the FAA to provide an independent assessment of the adequacy of the Boeing-proposed certification activities associated with MCAS."
The report added that there were signs FAA employees "faced undue pressure...which may be attributed to conflicting priorities and an environment that does not support FAA requirements."
To sum up, the FAA simply wasn't able to assess whether MCAS was safe or unsafe.
"The F.A.A. had inadequate awareness of the MCAS function," which means the agency wasn't even equipped to evaluate the system.
The report also confirmed that, at times, FAA employees often faced conflicts of interest in certifying the 737 MAX 8.