FAA's New Chief Urges Employees to Resist Pressure to End Max’s Grounding

The FAA’s New Chief Urges Employees to Resist Pressure to End Max’s Grounding.

Thankfully the F.A.A. has a new chief in Stephen Dickson and he’s not wasting any time in establishing that this F.A.A. is no longer the “Boeing F.A.A.” of the past. He just sent this message to his team making it clear that things have changed and all decisions going forward must be based solely on safety with no consideration to the marketing, production and revenue ramp-up schedules of the manufacturers they regulate. Their only responsibility he stresses is to the flying public who count on the F.A.A. to protect their safe passage.  It’s about time!

Meanwhile, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg continues to make statements that BA expects the Max to be approved by at least one key regulator (read the F.A.A.) and back in the air by the end of December. Wall Street, amazingly continues to take his guidance and maintain their bullish stance on the stock.

As this dance goes on, and the Justice Department criminal investigation grinds along, the first shareholder suit has been filed against the Boeing Board of Directors for negligence in guiding the 737 Certification process.

It may be instructive to note the fate of Volkswagen’s corporate debacle as the closest benchmark on what the Boeing catastrophe is likely to generate in terms of fines and incarcerations. In VW’s case they were hit with fines of $300Billion and the CEO plus several other executives have been incarcerated. BUT nobody perished from VW’s emission cheating. No families were left behind to mourn for their loved ones as is the case with Boeing.

Boeing is also playing their “too big to fail“ card to apply pressure on the regulators. They still have that huge backlog.  However, they need to make deliveries of all those Max’s sitting on the ground and collect payment before it can be counted as revenue and earnings. Not to mention that the jobs of many thousands of BA and their suppliers’ workers are on the line if BA has to shut down production.

But Mr. Dickson is sending strong signals that the F.A.A. no longer will be swayed by BA’s needs and pressure as has clearly been the case in the past.  In addition, he has stated that as an ex-737 pilot himself, he will personally fly the Max before he allows anyone else to do so.  If he’s not convinced beyond any doubt of the Max’s safety – it will be a very long wait.

Attached to his letter to all F.A.A. personnel, was his video message which acknowledged that he was aware there was pressure on everyone to return this aircraft to service.  But he made it clear to the staff that their job was to focus solely on safety and to resist any pressure otherwise.  He ended his message with, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back!”

~ Rob

NY Times By Natalie Kitroeff and Nov. 15, 2019

As the grounding of Boeing’s 
737 Max enters its eighth month, the company has been pressing the Federal Aviation Administration to speed up its approval of a fix that is necessary to return the plane to service.

Before the Max is allowed to fly again, the F.A.A. must test new software on the plane with pilots in flight simulators. Boeing has signaled publicly that the plane could gain approval as soon as December, and has urged the F.A.A. to begin that testing even though the agency has not fully vetted the software.

F.A.A. engineers have resisted the push, arguing that it doesn’t make sense to judge pilot responses to a system that could later change. They have raised concerns that hurrying the process may compromise safety, according to five people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

In a meeting last month, four of those people said, agency engineers got into a heated dispute with a manager over Boeing’s proposal that they begin the tests. The testing on the software, which will modify a flight control system that malfunctioned on two Max jets that crashed within five months of each other, killing 346 people, has not yet occurred.

The tension burst into the open on Friday when Stephen Dickson, the head of the F.A.A., released a video in which he urged agency employees to deliberate carefully while reviewing the Max.

“I know there’s a lot of pressure to return this aircraft to service quickly,” Mr. Dickson said in the video. “But I want you to know that I want you to take the time you need and focus solely on safety. I’ve got your back.”

On Thursday, Mr. Dickson sent a letter to Ali Bahrami, the agency’s head of aviation safety, reiterating his support for a “data-driven, methodical” review of the Max.

“I stand with you and your team in continuing to move at the pace of safety,” Mr. Dickson said. Mr. Bahrami, who formerly worked for a trade group that advocated for Boeing, distributed the letter to F.A.A. employees working on the Max approval.

Boeing has encountered repeated delays and setbacks in its efforts to get the Max flying again. The company has been preparing the software fix since October 2018, when the first Max crashed in Indonesia after a new system, known as MCAS, sent the plane into a nose dive. Governments around the world grounded the plane in March, after a crash in Ethiopia involving the same system.

Another delay occurred in recent weeks when engineers and international regulators who had gathered at the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, offices of Collins Aerospace, a Boeing contractor, were reviewing the software update. European regulators wanted the information about the software presented in a different format from the one Boeing had prepared, creating another hurdle, according to two people familiar with the delay.

“We are working closely with the F.A.A. and other regulatory authorities as we work towards certification and safe return to commercial service,” Boeing said in a statement on Friday. “As we have said, the F.A.A. and other regulatory authorities will determine the timing of certification and return to commercial service.”

A key step toward meeting Boeing’s timeline of approval in December is evaluating how pilots respond to failures of the system in a simulator. In conversations with the F.A.A., company executives including Mike Sinnett have argued that it’s legitimate to have pilots start testing the new software, which they maintain is essentially complete.

“We have been unequivocal in all of our conversations with leaders at Boeing that safety is the F.A.A.’s top priority,” the agency spokesman Lynn Lunsford said in a statement on Thursday. “We will take all the time we need to thoroughly evaluate Boeing’s proposed changes to the 737 Max to ensure it can safely return to service.”

Boeing has been producing the Max jets at a reduced rate for months and has hundreds in storage. Airlines want to begin receiving the planes as soon as possible so they can begin the lengthy process of getting them ready to fly again. The three airlines that fly the Max in the United States — American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines — have all canceled Max flights into March.

With the grounding stretching on, Boeing has been frustrated in its efforts to begin clearing the backlog. The F.A.A. could issue a directive as soon as December mandating the installation of the software update, but it now does not expect to issue instructions for new pilot training on the Max until January.

FAA Chief Urges Employees to Resist Pressure to End Max’s Grounding
Dennis A. Muilenburg, Boeing’s chief, asked Mr. Dickson if Max planes could be delivered to airlines before approval is complete.

In recent weeks, Boeing has floated the idea that it be allowed to start deliveries before the F.A.A. has cleared the plane to fly.

Last week, Boeing’s chief executive, Dennis A. Muilenburg, called Mr. Dickson and asked if the company could start delivering planes to customers after the order to install the software has been made but before the training requirements are set, according to two people familiar with the call. Mr. Dickson said he would consider the idea but made no commitments, the people said.

In the wake of the two crashes, lawmakers have grown critical of the F.A.A.’s habit of deferring to Boeing.

During the development of the Max, F.A.A. managers sided with Boeing over the agency’s own engineers in a dispute over a set of cables. And this year, senior managers at the F.A.A. broke with their employees’ assessment and allowed Boeing to remove lightning protection from part of the company’s 787 Dreamliner. Lawmakers sent a letter to the F.A.A. last week demanding explanations for the episodes and seeking assurances that the agency was not putting Boeing’s production schedules ahead of safety.

Other instances when the F.A.A. acceded to Boeing’s wishes have also come under scrutiny. A top Boeing pilot working on the Max, Mark Forkner, asked the agency for permission to remove any mention of MCAS from the pilot’s manual while the plane was being developed. The F.A.A. agreed.

Now, Mr. Dickson is reminding his employees of the importance of their independence.

“I support what you are doing to scrutinize aircraft very carefully, and I’ll support the time that you need to conduct a thorough, deliberate process for a safe return to service,” Mr. Dickson said in the video. “That’s called a just culture, and it places great value on employees’ judgment and freedom to make the tough safety calls.”

Kirkus Reviews, the gold-standard for independent reviews, has to say about "What Goes Around Comes Around":

A stable, positive, non preachy, objective voice makes the book stand apart from others in the genre. The author gives readers not just points or principles to ponder, but real human experiences that demonstrate them. A successful guide that uses anecdotes to reveal powerful truths about life.

~ Kirkus Reviews

“A stable, positive, non-preachy, objective voice makes the manual stand apart from others in the genre.  A successful guide that uses anecdotes to reveal powerful truths about life.” – Kirkus Reviews

“I’ve read a number of books that focus on sharing a similar message, including “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, “The Answer” by John Assaraf & Murray Smith, “The Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield, “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill, and I must say that I find Rob’s to be my favorite. – Sheryl Woodhouse, founder of Livelihood Matters LLC

FAA Chief Urges Employees to Resist Pressure to End Max’s Grounding

FAA Chief Urges Employees to Resist Pressure to End Max’s Grounding