FAA acting administrator Dan Elwell on April 4 defended the qualifications of US FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors (ASI) involved with the Flight Standardization Board (FSB) for the Boeing 737 MAX 8, saying that “all of the flight inspectors who participated in the [FSB] certification activities were fully qualified.”

His remarks, sent to US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation chairman Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), came in response to an April 2 announcement that the committee is launching an investigation into the qualifications of the ASIs, citing whistleblower complaints alleging numerous FAA employees involved with the Aircraft Evaluation Group (AEG) for the Boeing 737 MAX had not received proper training and valid certifications.

In announcing the committee investigation, Wicker wrote that “some of these FAA employees were possibly involved as participants on the FSB ... Specifically, the committee is concerned that such potential lack of training and certification of FAA ASI, and participation of those ASI on the FSB, may have led to an improper evaluation of the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS).”

Elwell said the FAA’s Office of Audit and Evaluation had launched an investigation in November 2018 into whistleblower complaints from an ASI who alleged that safety inspectors with the AEG did not meet mandatory training requirements. He said the allegations were specific to the AEG, having nothing to do with inspectors working on the Flight Standardization Board (FSB) for the 737 MAX—although he did not address whether the probe had uncovered issues regarding the qualifications of FAA employees involved with the AEG who did not participate in the FSB.

AEGs, which coordinate and assist with aircraft certification and continued airworthiness programs, form FSBs to determine requirements for pilot type ratings and minimum training recommendations, as well as to ensure competency of initial flight crew members.

The acting administrator acknowledged that separate concerns raised by the same whistleblower, including allegations of retaliation by management, “were substantiated during the investigation and will be remedied as soon as possible,” adding that the front-line manager found to have retaliated against the inspector is no longer employed at the FAA.

Elwell told Wicker he would supply the committee with a “fuller response” by April 16, which will include more details regarding the timeline and specifics of the internal probe.

The Senate probe into ASI qualifications comes amid a half-dozen other congressional, regulatory and criminal probes examining various aspects of the 737 MAX’s development and certification, adding heightened scrutiny to Boeing and the FAA ahead of  a planned software fix expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, wrote on Twitter that the whistleblower allegations have “added reason for alarm and independent scrutiny before the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is allowed to fly again,” adding that Congress “should end safety outsourcing, slipshod training and systemic lapses.”

Blumenthal has previously said he intends to introduce legislation to reform the Organizational Designation Authority (ODA) program that allows FAA to delegate safety and certification requirements to manufacturers like Boeing, saying at a recent subcommittee hearing the program amounts to “leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse.”

Ben Goldstein, Ben.Goldstein@aviationweek.com