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The U.S Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has sent letters to the President and Congress alerting them that numerous Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety inspectors were not sufficiently trained to certify pilots. A whistleblower disclosed the allegations to OSC, which were substantiated by an agency investigation that calls into question the operational review of several aircraft, including the Boeing 737 MAX and the Gulfstream VII. OSC also found that responses by FAA to congressional inquiries regarding these allegations appear to have been misleading in their portrayal of FAA employee training.
“The FAA is entrusted with the critically important role of ensuring aircraft safety," said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “The FAA's failure to ensure safety inspector competency for these aircraft puts the flying public at risk."
Safety inspectors participate in Flight Standardization Boards, which are responsible for ensuring pilot competency by developing training and experience requirements. Pursuant to FAA policy, safety inspectors must have both formal classroom training and on-the-job training. FAA policy states that on-the-job training “does not substitute for required classroom training."
In its investigation, the FAA's independent Office of Audit and Evaluation (AAE) determined that 16 out of 22 safety inspectors, including those at the Seattle Aircraft Evaluation Group, had not completed formal training. Further, 11 of the 16 undertrained safety inspectors did not have Certified Flight Instructor certificates, which are a basic position requirement. Based on information provided by the whistleblower and material obtained via an ongoing investigation, this also included safety inspectors assigned to the 737 MAX. According to the whistleblower, the unqualified inspectors administered hundreds of certifications, known as “check rides," that qualified pilots to operate new or modified passenger aircraft.
Despite the training deficiencies uncovered by the investigation, the FAA provided a response to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on April 4, 2019 claiming that “all of the flight inspectors who participated in the Boeing 737 MAX Flight Standardization Board certification activities were fully qualified for these activities."