U.S senators introduce bill to reform aircraft certification after 737 Max crashes

In this Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, file photo, a Boeing worker walks in view of a 737 MAX jet in Renton, Wash.

Elaine Thompson | AP

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill on Tuesday to reform aircraft certification following two fatal Boeing 737 Max crashes, lawmakers said in a statement.

The measure seeks to eliminate the ability of aircraft makers like Boeing to unduly influence the certification process. It marks the most significant step toward reforms following the 2018 and 2019 crashes, which sparked calls to change how the Federal Aviation Administration approves new airplanes.

U.S. Senate Commerce Committee chair Roger Wicker, a Republican, and ranking member Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, said the proposal draws on crash reports, recommendations from aviation experts, reports from victims’ families, and a series of hearings over the past year.

“Safety is paramount,” said Cantwell, of Washington state, where Boeing manufactures most of its aircraft. “A primary goal of this legislation is to make sure the FAA remains in the driver’s seat when it comes to certification.”

The proposal includes only technical changes from a draft circulated last week and first reported by Reuters.

Boeing has struggled to win regulatory approvals to resume commercial service of its money-spinning 737 Max since the plane was grounded worldwide in March 2019, plunging the Chicago-based company into a crisis compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Boeing also faces lawsuits, an ongoing criminal probe and a Transportation Department investigation.

Boeing and the FAA both declined to comment.

Elements of the proposal are sure to be a key focus on Wednesday when FAA chief Steve Dickson testifies at a committee hearing on aircraft certification oversight.

The legislation, called the Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020, would give the agency new authority to hire or remove Boeing employees conducting FAA certification tasks, appoint safety advisers and grant new whistleblower protections to employees, among other provisions.

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