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Latest FAA Reform Gives Workers New Way to Report Safety Flaws

Date: June 21, 2021

By Alan Levin, Bloomberg

Thousands of federal engineers, inspectors and other aviation workers have a new channel through which to report safety concerns without fear of retaliation in an action spurred by the two fatal crashes on the Boeing Co. 737 Max.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Monday unveiled what it calls the Voluntary Safety Reporting Program. The 7,400 people working at FAA’s Aviation Safety division can make reports through their unions or individually, and the information will be analyzed for safety trends.

“We can never be satisfied with the status quo when it comes to safety, and the free exchange of vital information is a cornerstone of safety and continual improvement,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a news release. “We want our employees to know that when they speak up, they can be sure someone is listening.”

The FAA’s action means its own safety inspectors are receiving the same encouragement to bring concerns to the surface that others in the aviation industry, such as airline pilots, have had for decades. It also addresses a requirement contained in a sweeping aviation safety law passed by Congress in December.

Two crashes on the 737 Max, an updated version of the single-aisle jet that became Boeing’s best-selling model, were triggered in part by a poorly designed flight-control system that repeatedly tried to dive during malfunctions. The crashes off the coast of Indonesia in October 2018 and in Ethiopia in March 2019 killed 346 people.

While changes to the control system’s design that made it more risky weren’t fully shared with FAA by Boeing, the agency was criticized afterward for poor internal communication and a failure to adequately assess the risks.

Multiple reviews after the crashes concluded that better reporting of internal concerns within FAA might help prevent such lapses in the future.

The new reporting system was endorsed by both the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents FAA engineers who evaluate aircraft designs, and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, whose members include various inspectors and other technicians.

“The more we can continue to encourage people to report, the more we can influence the safety in the system,” NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said in the release.

Union-FAA teams will review the reports and recommend corrective action, PASS President Mike Perrone said.

Similar programs have been in place at airlines and with FAA’s air-traffic control operations for years and are credited with providing data on safety trends and unseen risks that have helped reduce crash rates.

The employees covered under the FAA program include flight-test pilots, safety engineers, inspectors who monitor airlines and aircraft manufacturers, and other technical workers. The vast majority are represented by unions.

The reporting program’s rules were finalized in February, but it took several months to become operational.

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