The FAA Misled Congress on the Qualifications of Its 737 Max Inspectors, U.S. Probe Finds

American aviation regulators misled Congress about a whistle-blower’s allegation that many inspectors performing safety assessments on the now-grounded Boeing Co. 737 Max airplane weren’t properly qualified to certify pilots or assess pilot training, a government watchdog agency has concluded.

The Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that investigates whistle-blower complaints, called Federal Aviation Administration assertions on the case “misleading,” and said the agency’s response to lawmakers “raises significant concerns.”

The charges became public in April when Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who is chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, issued a press release. At the time, the FAA disputed the allegations, insisting in responses to Congress that its pilots were properly qualified.

The FAA pilots about whom qualification issues were raised are called Aviation Safety Inspectors. They administer skill tests of other pilots and perform other duties, including sitting on groups called Flight Standardization Boards. The FSB was involved in approving the pilot training criteria for the 737 Max.

The FAA, which disputed the findings Monday night, issued a second statement Tuesday with a stronger denial. “The FAA stands behind its response to Senator Wicker’s questions about the qualifications of Flight Standardization Board members,” the agency said in the latest statement. The agency’s communications to the lawmaker were cited in the OSC report.

The issue had no bearing on decisions about pilot-training requirements on the 737 Max, the agency said. “All of the aviation safety inspectors who participated in the evaluation of the Boeing 737 Max were fully qualified for those activities,” the agency said.

The Office of Special Counsel, however, sided with the whistle-blower and said some internal FAA reviews had concluded the same thing. It found that 16 of 22 FAA pilots conducting safety reviews, including making decisions on the 737 Max when it came into service two years ago, “lacked proper training and accreditation,” according to the OSC letter to President Donald Trump. The OSC letter was first reported by the Washington Post.

The two crashes of the 737 Max, which led to 346 deaths, were “closely linked with crew training resources and familiarity with operational procedures”—which were under the authority of some of the improperly trained pilots, the letter said.

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