F.A.A. to Increase Oversight of Boeing and Audit 737 Max 9 Production

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The Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday that it was expanding its scrutiny of Boeing, increasing oversight of the company with an audit of production of the 737 Max 9, a week after a panel in the body of one of those planes was blown out during flight.

The audit will assess whether Boeing and its suppliers adhered to approved quality control practices. The agency also said it would more closely scrutinize problems on the Max 9 and investigate safety risks associated with the agency’s practice of outsourcing some oversight to authorized Boeing employees, which some lawmakers and safety experts criticized after two crashes of 737 Max 8 planes killed 346 people.

“It is time to re-examine the delegation of authority and assess any associated safety risks,” the agency’s administrator, Mike Whitaker, said in a statement. “The grounding of the 737-9 and the multiple production-related issues identified in recent years require us to look at every option to reduce risk.”

There were no serious injuries from the accident last week, but the episode could have been far more catastrophic had it happened when the plane was at cruising altitude; the panel blew out when the plane was at 16,000 feet and still ascending after taking off from Portland, Ore. Investigators are focused on what caused the panel, a plug for an unused exit door, to suddenly be ripped out of the plane.

On Thursday, the F.A.A. announced an investigation into whether Boeing failed to ensure that the plane was up to standards and safe to operate.

Boeing said in a statement that it welcomed “the F.A.A.’s announcement and will cooperate fully and transparently with our regulator.”

“We support all actions that strengthen quality and safety, the company added, “and we are taking actions across our production system.”

The F.A.A. has for years outsourced to corporate employees some oversight of the certification of airplanes and airplane parts. After a lengthy investigation into the design, development and certification of the Max, House Democrats criticized that practice, saying the agency had outsourced too much responsibility to Boeing employees, who may not be sufficiently independent.

On Friday, Mr. Whitaker, whom the Senate confirmed as F.A.A. administrator in October, said he would be willing to give the program another look. He also said the agency was exploring the use of an independent third party to oversee Boeing’s inspections and its quality system.

Some aviation experts say that the practice is necessary given the F.A.A.’s limited resources and that changing it would require Congress to give the agency more money and authority to hire more professionals.

Arjun Garg, a former chief counsel and acting deputy administrator of the F.A.A., said the agency did not have the resources to inspect every aspect of a plane. Bringing in-house all the work that has been delegated to Boeing and other manufacturers in the aviation industry would overwhelm the agency’s work force and budget, Mr. Garg said.

“I don’t think you can blame Congress for this or the F.A.A.,” he added. “This is just how the system has been designed given the need to have safety oversight and the practicality of resource constraints.”

Outsourcing of oversight is common among regulators, but a Government Accountability Office report in 2022 found that the F.A.A. did not audit the practice as closely as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. That year, the F.A.A. said it had strengthened oversight of the practice by better protecting the deputized company employees from interference.

A day before the F.A.A.’s statement, Senator Maria Cantwell, the Washington State Democrat who leads the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, called on the F.A.A. to increase its oversight of manufacturers, including contractors like Spirit AeroSystems, which produces the fuselage of the 737 Max for Boeing.

“The public deserves a comprehensive evaluation of Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems to strengthen production quality and aviation safety,” Ms. Cantwell said in a statement on Friday.

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