Department of Transportation forms 'expert' committee to review FAA's aircraft approval process

Key Points
  • The DOT said the special committee will examine how the FAA approves new planes, including the Boeing 737 Max.
  • The committee shows increased scrutiny of the popular Boeing planes following two crashes of the popular model.
An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, U.S. March 21, 2019.
Lindsey Wasson | Reuters

The U.S. Department of Transportation is setting up a committee to review how the Federal Aviation Administration approves new aircraft, as scrutiny mounts on popular Boeing planes that were involved in two fatal crashes in less than five months, the DOT said on Monday.

The committee's findings and recommendations will be presented to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and to the FAA's administrator, the DOT said.

Lawmakers and the Trump administration are ramping up scrutiny of the Boeing's 737 Max aircraft, following the crash of an that model of plane operated by Ethiopian Airlines shortly after takeoff on on March 10, killing all 157 people on board.

The U.S. on March 13 joined dozens of other countries in grounding the Boeing 737 Max in the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines crash. The suspension forced some carriers that have recently added the planes to their fleets to cancel scores of flights a day.

Investigators have said that the Ethiopian Airlines crash showed "clear similarities" with Lion Air Flight 610, which plunged into the Java Sea in Indonesia in October at a similar stage in the flight.

Investigators in the Lion Air crash have indicated that pilots were battling an automatic anti-stall system that Boeing added to the planes before they debuted in 2017. That system pushes the nose of the plane downward if the plane's sensor signals it is in a stall. Pilots said they were not aware of the software until after the Lion Air crash.

Boeing is currently readying a fix to the software that would prevent it from repeatedly pushing down the nose of the plane, employ data from an additional sensor, among other changes. The manufacturer plans to brief pilots and regulators on its plan on Wednesday. Boeing is also preparing changes for pilot training and manuals for the Max.

"Safety is the number one priority of the Department, and this review by leading outside experts will help determine if improvements can be made to the FAA aircraft certification process," Chao said in a release.

The DOT is seeking members for the committee and accepting nominations via email. Interim co-chairs include former Delta Air Lines pilot and ex-president of the Air Line Pilots Association Lee Moak and retired Air Force Gen. Darren McDew, the former head of the U.S. Transportation Command.

Boeing said it was "looking forward" to working with the committee. "Safety is our top priority when we design, build, deliver and maintain Boeing aircraft," it said in a statement. "Boeing has been engaged with the DOT, FAA, our airline customers as well as other aviation community partners for decades to make flying the world's safest mode of transportation."

Boeing shares closed up 2.3 percent at $370.46, but have shed close to 16 percent so far this month.

Ethiopian Airlines CEO says it will be very difficult for Boeing to restore faith in its planes