March 25, 2019 / 7:04 PM / 7 months ago

U.S. panel to review how airplanes certified after Boeing 737 crashes

WASHINGTON, March 25 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department said Monday it is forming an outside panel to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft certification program amid growing concerns after two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes since October.

The panel will initially be co-chaired by retired Air Force General Darren McDew, the former head of the U.S. Transportation Command, and Lee Moak, a former president of the Air Line Pilots Association, pending the appointment of other members representing “a diverse group of stakeholders in the aviation industry,” the department said in a statement.

Nearly 350 people have died in fatal 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Boeing is working on software and training updates for its 737 MAX aircraft it expects to detail as early as Wednesday.

The 737 MAX is Boeing’s best-selling plane, with orders worth more than $500 billion at list prices.

“This review by leading outside experts will help determine if improvements can be made to the FAA aircraft certification process,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.

The FAA and Boeing have come under scrutiny for allegedly being “too cozy” as questions have risen about the FAA’s certification process. The FAA said Monday it has “never allowed companies to police themselves or self-certify their aircraft.”

Federal prosecutors, the Transportation Department’s inspector general and lawmakers are investigating the FAA’s certification of the 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

Acting FAA chief Dan Elwell, National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt and Transportation Department inspector general Calvin Scovell will testify Wednesday before a Senate Commerce Committee panel. Chao will also testify before a Senate Appropriations panel Wednesday.

The Transportation Department said the panel, the Special Committee to Review FAA’s Aircraft Certification Process, is “an independent body whose findings and recommendations will be presented directly” to Chao and the FAA. (Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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