• Wed. May 11th, 2022

Whistleblowing in the airline industry

Answer: At least seven. Seven whistleblowers who are either current or former employees of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Boeing and GE have appeared before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (“Committee”) to report safety issues related to “Aircraft Safety”. and the FAA and industry certification environment. In response to these whistleblowers sharing their experiences as engineers in the aviation industry and the safety issues they observed, the Committee drafted the Aircraft Certification, Safety and Liability Act, which was promulgated in December 2020.

Whistleblowers initially raised their concerns with the Committee following two Boeing 737 MAX-8 disasters in 2018 and 2019, incidents which the Committee investigated thoroughly. The Aircraft Certification, Safety and Liability Act extended federal whistleblower protection to aircraft manufacturers’ employees, contractors and suppliers. Since the passage of the Act, whistleblowers have continued to engage with the Committee, alerting the Committee to persistent problems within the aviation industry.

According to the December 2021 “Aviation Safety Whistleblower Report” from the Committee’s Democratic staff, the top issues highlighted by whistleblowers include the following:

Excessive pressure on line engineers and production staff

Line engineers with technical expertise ignored

Boeing’s Seattle monitoring office lacks safety engineers

FAA certification processes do not require compliance with the latest airworthiness standards

Close FAA oversight has eroded under the Organization Design Authorization (ODA) program

FAA and industry wrestle with technical engineering capability needed for complex aircraft systems

If you see something, say something

Fortunately, whistleblowers have offered recommendations on steps the FAA could take to fully implement key provisions of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Liability Act. They proposed more direct oversight of ODA personnel by the FAA and that the FAA should ensure that engineers with sufficient technical expertise are part of Boeing’s Aviation Safety Oversight Office (BASOO). While whistleblowers pointed out that some of the Boeing 737 MAX-8’s safety issues may have stemmed from rushed production schedules and “undue pressure”, they recommended a review of Boeing’s safety culture. Other sections of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Liability Act that whistleblowers allege the FAA has yet to address include: requiring aircraft manufacturers to implement safety management systems, limiting the delegation of certain safety tasks, to carry out an annual evaluation of the safety culture within the administration, and to mandate an “integrated analysis of aircraft safety designs”.

These whistleblowers are a great example of industry insiders using their expertise to highlight safety issues and possible wrongdoings that affect taxpayers (funding the FAA) and consumers (everyone who flies on an airplane) . The Committee’s report notes that “whistleblowers provide an essential public service by exposing wrongdoing in the public and private sector”. Aircraft manufacturing insiders with information about safety breaches are encouraged to come forward, as they can help thwart wrongdoing and keep the future of air travel safe.

© 2022 by Tycko & Zavareei LLPNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 41