According to an article of the New York Times (which link is below reported), it seems that the FAA has delegated to Boeing the certification tasks of the Boeing 737 Max.
Now, delegation of certification (and/or oversight) tasks to a business involved (directly or indirectly) in such a delegated activity, will certainly reduce the overall costs for both the mentioned parties, and for the passengers as well. However, at the same time, I think it will expose (all) the stakeholders to a more significant risk.
The stakeholders are not only those seating at the business’ board (i.e. Boeing) and those managing at the Authority office (i.e. FAA). In this case, the stakeholders are indeed the passengers as well.
Of course, and I am sure you agree, none of the businesses within civil aviation has got interest or convenience in delivering an unsafe product, which is especially true for a so great, advanced and very well renowned enterprise like Boeing certainly is.
However, being still an economic and financial business, by its very nature, Boeing (like any other similar business) will have interest to reach the target at the lowest possible cost, at the risk of approaching the thin border between what it is safe and what starts to be not so safe anymore. Which is something that an independent governative institution would very likely avoid.
An indipendent governative institutions will in fact disregard (by its nature), in a far greater extent than the private business, of the costs that must be beared to ensure the highest possible level of safety …and the reason is quite simple, it is about the so called “fundamental problem with the regulators”:
<<If a regulator agrees to change a rule (or a policy) and something bad happens, they can easily lose their career. Whereas if they change a rule and something good happens, they don’t even get a reward. So, it’s very asymmetric. It’s then very easy to understand why regulators resist changing the rules (or policies). It’s because there’s a big punishment on one side and no reward on the other. How would any rational person behave in such a scenario?>>
The above statement (except for what has been written within brackets) was made by Mr Elon Musk, when he was still trying to push forward his Space-X business, amid the restrictions and bureaucracy of the FAA. However, the same principle, if applied, would surely provide with a curb to any risky or “adventurous” proposal from the civil aviation industry.
Apparently, one of the problem with the B737 MAX, was that FAA gave up its role of independent institution by delegating to Boeing the certification tasks.
At this point we might ask ourselves few questions:
Did the FAA assessed the risk laying in delegating Boeing 737-MAX certification tasks to Boeing? Honestly, I think yes they did, but they eventually reached the conclusion that the risk was acceptable.
According to an article of Bloomberg (which link is below reported), it seems that Boeing outsourced the coding of the software supposed to manage some of the B737 Max systems. And the skill of such contracted software-engineers has been made questionable
If true, what was the risk of outsourcing the 737 Max software to 9 dollars-a-hour engineers? and how was it calculated?
I do not have an answer to this, but I am sure that FAA would have reached very different than Boeing, if it did done such risk analysis to its own skilled experts .
(Note that I assume FAA let Boeing deciding the required skills for the software engineers and did not carry out the risk related to a “cheap choice”, but it is of course just my own assumption).
If the content of the below listed Bloomberg’s article is correct, we have to conclude that (if really assessed) the risk of hiring low skilled software-engineers was deemed as acceptable by Boeing.
Once more again, I do believe that FAA would have reached quite different conclusions: why indeed the FAA should have accepted the risk of hiring low skilled engineers?
On the other hand, no commercial business has got the interest in delivering an unsafe product, and I am 100% sure they did their best at Boeing to ensure the safety and to preserve the good name of the Company.
What perhaps happened at Boeing was they got convinced the probability of an adverse event was so low (rare, in the below table) to be seen as very unlikely.
Be that as it may, they have moved “their safety gauge” too close to a dangerous boundary, beyond which, the outcome in case of accident is (as it has indeed been for already two times) catastrophic.
Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has expressed his concern on the process used to evaluate the original design. Further improvement is therefore recommended in the current process, as it is the one still in use to certify current and future aircraft and system designs, as explained in the introduction of the NTSB report (check the link below if interested to deepen on such a NTSB report).
In conclusion, despite delegation of certification tasks may result in savings for all the parties (the regulator, the enterprise and even the customers including passengers), the resulting scenario may entail a conflict of interests that represents an unacceptable danger for the public.
The FAA claims a lack of resources in order to justify the delegation of certification tasks (see “About the FAA Designee Program“) but honestly, I think everybody would prefer some slight tax increase for the sake of safety, instead of bearing a risk represented by what seems a dangerous conflict of interest.
- New York Times: “The Roots of Boeing’s 737 Max Crisis: A Regulator Relaxes Its Oversight“
- Bloomberg: “Boeing’s 737 Max Software Outsourced to $9-an-Hour Engineers“
- NTSB Safety Report ASR1901: “Recommendations to the FAA“