FAA chief will pilot Boeing’s 737 MAX in Seattle Wednesday as ungrounding nears

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dickson on Wednesday will fulfill a promise he made just months after taking command of the regulatory agency in the midst of Boeing’s 737 MAX crisis.

“I am not going to sign off on this aircraft until I fly it myself and am satisfied I would put my own family on it without a second thought,” Dickson told FAA employees last November.

On Wednesday he’ll take off from Boeing Field in a high-profile test flight intended as Dickson’s personal assurance to the public that the MAX is safe following 19 months of intense scrutiny by his agency.

It’s the clearest signal yet that the FAA is poised to unground the jet in late October or early November.

The MAX was grounded worldwide in early March 2019 after the second of two fatal accidents that together killed 346 people aboard almost-new aircraft. A series of investigations established that the pilots on the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines jets struggled against a flawed flight control system on the MAX that overcame their commands.

Since then, the FAA and international regulators have been minutely examining the fixes proposed by Boeing.

As the company girds against the new existential threat posed by the historic pandemic-driven aviation downturn, Dickson’s flight is a high-stakes moment.

For the MAX crisis that has consumed Boeing, shattering its plans for accelerated production and causing the loss of significant market share to rival Airbus, it could perhaps at last be a turning point.

Dickson tests Boeing’s fixes
Dickson’s MAX test plane is scheduled to depart from Boeing Field at about 9 a.m. and is expected to fly for about two hours. Dickson will brief reporters after landing, at a news conference around 11:30 a.m. that will be broadcast live on the FAA’s website and social-media platforms.

On Tuesday in Seattle, Dickson and FAA Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell completed the recommended new pilot training for the MAX as part of the preparation for the flight.

Dickson is a former Air Force F-15 jet fighter pilot, and as a captain with Delta Air Lines he flew the previous models of the 737 as well as other Boeing and Airbus jets. At Delta, he rose to senior vice president of flight operations, responsible for the safety and operational performance of the airline’s global fleet.

He took charge of the FAA in July 2019.

Testifying in December before the U.S. House Transportation Committee, Dickson reiterated the FAA position that “when the 737 MAX is returned to service, it will be because the safety issues have been addressed and pilots have received all the
training they need to safely operate the aircraft.”

Last December, Dickson starkly rebuked Boeing’s then-CEO Dennis Muilenburg for seeming to push for clearance to fly the MAX by the end of that month.

In August, the FAA laid out the proposed design changes on the MAX that it believes will make it safe. The proposals drew more than 200 comments from the public and aviation experts.

As the ungrounding approaches, foreign aviation regulators are lining up their own requirements and Congress is beginning to consider legislation to reform the process through which the FAA certifies airliners.

Last week, the executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Patrick Ky, said publicly that his agency expects to sign off on ungrounding the 737 MAX in November.

EASA will stipulate further changes beyond those in the FAA proposal, but Ky said those can be retrofitted after the jet’s return to service and so won’t delay the MAX’s ungrounding.

And on Monday, the House Committee on Transportation announced a bipartisan legislative proposal designed to strengthen the FAA certification process.

However, at this point ahead of the election, it’s unlikely new legislation can be passed before next year.

An FAA report detailing the required pilot training must be published, with a period for public comment.

And a multi-agency Technical Advisory Board must review the final design documentation and issue its report.

Federal Aviation Administration administrator Steve Dickson speaks to journalists at the Dubai Airshow in November 2019. Dickson will fly Boeing’s updated 737 MAX  Wednesday to assure the public the jet is now safe. (Jon Gambrell / The Associated Press)
Federal Aviation Administration administrator Steve Dickson speaks to journalists at the Dubai Airshow in November 2019. Dickson will fly Boeing’s updated 737 MAX Wednesday to assure the public the jet is now safe. (Jon Gambrell / The Associated Press) 

Link: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/faa-chief-will-pilot-boeings-737-max-in-seattle-wednesday-as-ungrounding-nears/

FAA Recommends Airlines Warn Pilots About Boeing 787 ILS Issue

The FAA has issued an airworthiness bulletin over problems with Dreamliner ILS approaches. Photo: Boeing Newsroom

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin for owners and operators of Boeing’s Dreamliner on Thursday. The bulletin applies to the three Dreamliner models, the 787-8, 787-9, and 787-10. In their bulletin, the FAA flags the possibility of the autopilot flight director system failing to capture the localizer on an ILS approach.

The FAA says there were reports that;

“…the autopilot flight director system was not providing proper guidance to capture the localizer when intercepting the localizer at large angles (40 degrees or more) from the runway and beam centerline.”

FAA bulletin follows problems with Dreamliner ILS approaches at Hong Kong
Earlier this year, Simple Flying reported that there had been five incidents at Hong Kong Airport where Boeing 787 aircraft descended below the minimum safe altitude. It was believed the terrain around the airport was causing the false or failed localizer signal captures. At the time, Boeing told Simple Flying;

“Boeing is working closely on this issue with the AAIA and CAD in Hong Kong as well as the FAA. Boeing has provided information to 787 operators, including instructions for pilots to monitor data closely on certain approaches. We are also working on a permanent resolution.”

FAA bulletin provides a forensic breakdown of the ILS problem
The bulletin issued by the FAA yesterday provides a forensic breakdown of the problem with Dreamliner ILS. According to the FAA, guidance from the autopilot flight director system partially reduced the intercept angle. However, the aircraft continued through the localizer at a heading not aligned with the runway centerline. The primary flight display continued to display “LOC” as the active roll mode, and there was no indication of a failure to capture.

However, both the localizer pointer and scale on the primary flight display did reveal the error. The affected aircraft initially turned toward the localizer heading, “but then stopped short and flew at a constant heading that intercepted the runway heading at a 20 to 30-degree angle.”

The FAA says localizer and glideslope modes were engaged, and the AFDS provided guidance to descend on the glideslope. This meant the aircraft continued to deviate from the runway centerline and descend on an incorrect heading.

Over 1,000 Dreamliners are in service around the world. The agile plane has proved a big hit with airlines and is now flown by scores of operators. But the Dreamliner has not been without its problems.

There have been continual quality control problems dating back the best part of a decade. These include problems concerning parts of the fuselage not meeting exacting engineering standards. In August, issues with improper fuselage shimming and inner skin surfacing were highlighted at Boeing’s 787 factory in Charleston. There have also been quality-control problems with the Dreamliner’s horizontal stabilizers.

In response to the incidents and the subsequent FAA bulletin, Boeing has issued a new Flight Crew Operations Manual Bulletin. The Boeing bulletin flags the problem and provides information on the operating instructions for AFDS operation during an ILS approach. The FAA also advised yesterday that Boeing is still working on updating the software to fix the problematic localizer mode behavior during Dreamliner ILS approaches.

Link: https://simpleflying.com/boeing-787-ils-issue-warning/

FAA proposes $1.25 million in civil penalties against Boeing for pressuring FAA designees

6 August 2020
The FAA proposes two civil penalties totaling $1.25 million against  Boeing for alleged violations in the program that allows the aircraft manufacturer to perform certain functions on behalf of the FAA. The FAA alleges that Boeing managers exerted undue pressure or interfered with the work of FAA designees at the company’s plant in South Carolina.
The first civil penalty, for $1,066,655, alleges Boeing implemented an improper structure of its FAA-approved Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program. The ODA program authorizes Boeing to perform approved functions on behalf of the FAA, including inspecting aircraft and issuing airworthiness certificates. Between November 2017 and July 2019, employees in two ODA units reported to managers who were not in approved ODA management positions. Boeing failed to ensure ODA administrators were in a position to effectively represent the FAA’s interests, the FAA alleges.
The FAA further alleges that between September 2018 and May 2019, non-ODA Boeing managers exerted undue pressure or interfered with ODA unit members.The second civil penalty, for $184,522, alleges Boeing on Feb. 26, 2020 failed to follow its quality control processes and subjected ODA members to undue pressure or interfered with an airworthiness inspection of a Boeing 787-9.
In both cases, the FAA found that despite the alleged undue pressure or interference from Boeing managers, the ODA unit members fulfilled their FAA responsibilities to ensure aircraft were conforming and in a condition for safe operation prior to issuance of their airworthiness certificates.Boeing has 30 days after receiving the FAA’s enforcement letters to respond to the agency.

Link: https://news.aviation-safety.net/2020/08/06/faa-proposes-1-25-million-in-civil-penalties-against-boeing-for-pressuring-faa-designees/

FAA Grants New Extension on Crew Training and Checks

The FAA has approved a request made by NATA to grant an extension to exemptions involving certain crew training and checking requirements as the Covid pandemic continues to play havoc with travel and scheduling. The two exemptions, originally granted in late March and previously extended in May, are available to all Part 119 certificated carriers operating under Part 135 and extend the deadlines for those coming due during this period.
For exemption No. 18509B, which provides relief to allow NATA members and other Part 135 air carriers/operators to use alternative methods to conduct certain required crewmember emergency procedures during recurrent and upgrade training, testing, or checking, the new extension moves the end date to November 30. For No. 18510B, which provides limited relief from the timeframes for completing recurrent training and qualification requirements for ground personnel and crewmembers, this moves to year-end.
Both exemption extensions require certificate holders to provide revised plans to mitigate any potential risk due to the postponement of training, testing, or checking. NATA noted that every Part 135 operator should obtain and review the exemptions and added that a certificate holder that submitted a letter of intent before July 30, in accordance with the previous exemptions, is not required to submit an additional letter.The association will continue to monitor the situation and, if needed, plans to submit future requests.

Link: https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2020-07-31/faa-grants-new-extension-crew-training-and-checks

Pilots Facing Retests After Incompetent Examiner Revealed

AOPA is reporting that hundreds of pilots may have to take their practical tests over again after in FAA investigation revealed issues with the performance of Cincinnati FAA examiner. Anyone who passed ride with Michael A. Puehler between 2008 and 2019 may have to take the test again. AOPA says the FAA said the action was taken to “ensure that these individuals meet the standards.” On July 15, the FAA sent a policy document to aviation safety inspectors that included a draft letter to be sent from FSDOs to deliver the news to the affected pilots.

The letter says the reexamination is necessary in the “interest of safety” and gives the pilots ten days to contact their local FSDO to start the process. It will be quite a process for some, especially if they got progressively more advanced ratings and endorsements from Puehler. They’ll have to be retested on all of them. But some may get a pass. Depending on the particular rating or endorsement, many of those who went on to take advanced practical exams from other examiners won’t have to be retested. Those who don’t want to go through it all can voluntarily cancel or downgrade their certificates.

Link: https://www.avweb.com/aviation-news/pilots-facing-retests-after-incompetent-examiner-revealed/


The FAA plans to reexamine pilots and flight instructors who took practical tests between 2008 and 2019 from an FAA inspector and examiner whose work was called into question following an investigation.

Several hundred pilots may be affected by the decision to reexamine airmen who took practical tests from Michael A. Puehler of Cincinnati. The FAA said the action was needed to “ensure that these individuals meet the standards” to hold their certificates and ratings.

AOPA believes such action should only be required in the most egregious of cases, said Christopher Cooper, AOPA director of regulatory affairs.

He noted that the case has surfaced at a time when the FAA’s complete designated pilot examiner examining system has been undergoing a systemwide review.

Some insights into the FAA’s concerns about Puehler surfaced in a policy document the FAA sent to its aviation safety inspectors on July 15. The document included a draft letter to be sent from the FAA’s flight standards district offices (FSDOs) to the pilots identified as subject to reexamination, notifying them of the Puehler inquiry and noting that “based on that investigation, the FAA has reason to believe that Mr. Puehler issued certificates and/or ratings to airmen when the airmen did not demonstrate the qualifications to hold the certificate and/or rating for which they were tested. Thus, the competence of the airmen tested by Mr. Puehler during that time period is in question, and reexamination of the airmen’s qualifications to hold their certificates and/or ratings is necessary in the interest of safety.”

The letter requests that recipients “call or appear at this office or a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) more conveniently located near [them] within 10 days of receipt of this letter, to make an appointment for a reexamination.”

Failure to respond to the letter would result in certificate suspension.

Not all pilots who took a checkride from Puehler between October 2008 and December 2019 must be reexamined. According to the policy document, some exemptions apply in cases of pilots who, after having received certificates or ratings from Mr. Puehler, were “subsequently tested and received, from another Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) or FAA inspector, a higher-level U.S. certificate or rating in the same category and class as that previously issued by Mr. Puehler.”

FAA reexamination requests are typically upheld as long as the FAA can demonstrate a “reasonable basis” for the request, but each case is unique. Pilots who have legal questions about a 709 reexmaination are encouraged to contact the AOPA Legal Services Plan or an experienced aviation attorney.

The reexams are for real
The FAA does not charge a fee for the so-called 709 rides-a reference to the FAA’s authority to reexamine pilots under Title 49 of the U.S. Code § 44709-but pilots may incur costs of providing “an appropriate, airworthy aircraft,” which will be inspected prior to flight, and taking any flight instruction needed before undergoing the examination.

“AOPA urges all pilots being reexamined to take this test seriously,” Cooper said. “This is a full reexam of your piloting privileges. Be prepared, practice, study, because you will be expected to meet” ACS/PTS standards (airman certification standards/practical test standards).

AOPA emailed Puehler to ask for his response to the FAA’s action but has not received a reply. A LinkedIn profile for “Mike Puehler,” which has since been taken down, listed extensive aviation experience as a flight instructor, as an assistant chief flight instructor for a Part 141 flight school, as a university aviation instructor, and as a collegiate flight team coach.

The site lists FAA experience for Puehler including several years as a DPE and 11 years as a principal operations inspector for the Cincinnati FSDO’s general aviation unit, where his duties were said to include conducting “oversight of Designated Pilot Examiners,” investigating aircraft accidents, and ensuring compliance with the FARs.

As the Puehler probe continues, AOPA takes the position that the FAA should only resort to widespread 709 reexaminations under the most egregious circumstances-and the current case is not the first instance of the agency embarking on such a course. In 2013 AOPA reported urging the FAA to justify ordering a large number of reexamination flights in an investigation of a complaint lodged against a DPE in the Northeast who the agency said was conducting practical tests contrary to the appropriate standards. The FAA also took action in a 2012 investigation involving the activities of a DPE operating in the Las Vegas area.

Link: https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2020/july/30/pilots-who-flew-with-discredited-examiner-face-reexamination

FAA Striving For Balance in Supersonic Regs

The FAA is placing a priority on supporting the emergence of supersonic technologies, but the agency must apply appropriate regulatory and environmental safeguards, said a key agency official. “Our focus…has been how we can support the reemergence of supersonic aircraft from a regulatory perspective to ensure that, as technology advances, the FAA is putting in place the necessary regulatory changes,” said Kevin Welsch, executive director of the FAA’s Office of Environment and Energy during a recent American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aviation Forum. For years, certification projects remained steady and “looked similar,” he said. But in the last few years, “all of a sudden that space has exploded in terms of the types of regulations we are doing… It is a lot of work for government agencies to catch up with innovation. That’s one of our major focuses,” Welsch said. Welsch pointed to the two primary regulatory activities underway on supersonic, one involved with enabling certification fight testing and another establishing certification noise landing and takeoff standards. The agency is now sorting through comments on both proposals as it shapes a final rule The proposals have been in the works for several years, he said, and will mark “a really big step” for supersonic aircraft development.  “The challenge was to both provide enough flexibility to this emerging industry and market to allow continued development while also addressing considerations about noise exposure,” Welsch said, adding the agency is “trying to find a balance.” Assessing environmental tradeoffs against aircraft technologies “is at the core of what my office does,” he said. “We spend a lot of resources in modeling those impacts and assessing them.” He acknowledged that in the supersonic realm, there will be organizations that simply have the policy to oppose development, and said it is difficult to work through issues with those who are not open to dialog. However, the FAA is looking at how to mitigate effects and hopes to communicate that what is proposed from a noise standpoint is consistent with the majority of aircraft currently in production. “On emissions, it’s going to be very difficult,” he conceded. “It’s going to be something that the industry needs to address very seriously.” Regulatory requirements need to address that as well. However, there are options, Welsch added, such as carbon offsets and sustainable fuel use. Those rulemakings must “connect back” to international standards. “Ultimately, any standards that we put in the U.S. are good domestically, but these aircraft…need to be able to fly to other places,” he said. The rules must be harmonized, he added, noting the agency is working intensively with the International Civil Aviation Organization on a standards-setting process that could gain global acceptance.  “To do this, there’s a lot going on. It’s a really important piece,” he said.

Link: https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2020-07-29/faa-striving-balance-supersonic-regs