A proposed bill to tighten controls on how federal aviation safety regulators oversee and approve Boeing’s design of new jets has been hammered out by a Senate committee after backroom negotiations and a pressure campaign by families of the 346 people who died in two crashes of the 737 Max.
If passed, the bill would reverse the yearslong trend of delegating more and more control of the process to Boeing itself and would shift the balance of oversight responsibility back toward the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“We’re pleased,” said Michael Stumo, the father of 24-year-old Samya Stumo, who died in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March last year and whose extended family has campaigned for accountability ever since. “This is the baseline for going forward. This is real.”
In recent days the bill has grown new teeth that were absent from an initial draft circulated last week by Committee Chairman U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. That early version called for a two-year study of ways to improve the system but mandated no specific changes.
The strengthening of the bill follows intense negotiations with the committee’s ranking minority member, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and a lobbying campaign by the families of the crash victims.
For Cantwell, it was a role reversal.
A longtime champion of Boeing and the jobs it brings to Washington state, she wrote an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 that eliminated the few remaining barriers to delegating most of the certification work to Boeing.
While the Max was certified before that act became law, the two crashes that occurred within five months of its signing have changed the congressional calculus.
In negotiations with the Republicans on the committee over the past week, Cantwell insisted that if Wicker wanted his bill to be bipartisan, certification would have to move in the opposite direction, putting limits and controls on Boeing’s role in certifying its own airplanes.
Cantwell said she focused on “making sure the FAA’s oversight is strong, clear and transparent.”
The families of the crash victims mobilized for the same goal.
After Wicker’s initial draft bill was posted on a WhatsApp group chat for the families last week, participants sent a flood of passionate emails to 59 members of the Commerce Committee staff.
The brother of 29-year-old Kenyan electrical engineer George Kabau, who died in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019, wrote that the Senate staffers should fulfill their “duty of safeguarding the future safety of the flying public, not just for Americans, but for the entire world by proposing and endorsing adequate legislative interventions.”
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