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FAA toughens oversight of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner

The Federal Aviation Administration is stepping up its oversight of Boeing, telling the aircraft maker Tuesday that federal inspectors will retain the authority to certify each new 787 Dreamliner plane as airworthy.

It's a significant departure from the usual practice of having designated Boeing employees conduct certification inspections under FAA oversight.

Boeing has not delivered any new 787 passenger jets to airlines since May 2021, when for a second time safety regulators halted deliveries because they found production flaws in the planes, such as unacceptable gaps between fuselage panels. The FAA had also halted 787 deliveries in late 2020 because of production problems.The FAA said in a statement that when it does finally allow Boeing to resume 787 deliveries, "the agency will retain the authority to issue airworthiness certificates for all Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. This will allow the agency to confirm the effectiveness of measures Boeing has undertaken to improve the 787 manufacturing process."

Over the past two decades, the aviation industry has used a program in which the manufacturer's designated employees conducts final certification inspections and FAA employees then review the inspection reports. But that practice has been widely criticized in the wake of the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max airplanes less than five months apart, in Indonesia and Ethiopia, that killed 346 people.

Plane crash investigators found both crashes were caused in large part by an automated flight control system, about which Boeing and its employees have been accused of deceiving and misleading safety regulators; while the FAA has been accused of lax oversight of the program.

Tha FAA has since retained final inspection and certification authority of every new 737 Max jetliner produced.

The FAA says its inspectors will continue to perform final inspections on newly produced 787s until the agency "is confident that:
--Boeing's quality control and manufacturing processes consistently produce 787s that meet FAA design standards
--Boeing has a robust plan for the re-work that it must perform on a large volume of new 787s in storage
--Boeing's delivery processes are stable"

In response, a Boeing spokesperson said in a statement "We respect the FAA's role as our regulator and we will continue to work transparently through their detailed and rigorous processes. Safety is the top priority for everyone in our industry. To that end, we will continue to engage with the FAA to ensure we meet their expectations and all applicable requirements."

As of the end of December, Boeing had 110 of its 787 Dreamliners manufactured but not yet certified, as the widebody airplanes undergo rework at Boeing factories in both North Charleston, S.C., and Everett, Wash. Production of the 787 continues at the South Carolina plant, but at a low rate of just two or three per month. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.