WASHINGTON – The battery woes that have indefinitely grounded Boeing 787s have raised questions about how the Federal Aviation Administration certified the aircraft.
But few might realize it was Boeing, not FAA inspectors, that largely vouched for the Dreamliner’s safety.
The tests on the lithium-ion batteries at the center of Boeing’s crisis were conducted by the company. And the people the FAA designated on its behalf to ensure that the batteries conformed to its safety regulations also were Boeing employees. “Self-certification” accelerated during the past decade even as critics say advances in aerospace technologies have created greater need for closer independent scrutiny. Under streamlining begun in 2005, the FAA has granted Boeing in-house oversight for new planes in production and approval of major repairs and alterations.
In a 2011 review, the inspector general of the Department of Transportation found the FAA in one case delegated some 90 percent of the determination for regulatory compliance for new aircraft design to outside representatives. The Inspector General’s Office would not identify the company, but the report focused on Boeing, Cessna Aircraft and Bombardier. The FAA is examining its own certification of the 787 in 2011.
Bret Jensen, a spokesman for Boeing, responded that the 787 was subject to greater scrutiny from the FAA than any previous jetliner.
More on probe: A11.