On April 2, 2019, Senator Roger Wicker, chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, launched an investigation of any potential connection between inadequate training and certification of Aviation Safety Inspectors (ASI) who may have participated in the evaluation of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. The investigation began as a result of information obtained from numerous whistleblowers. To launch the investigation, Chairman Wicker wrote to then-Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell to request additional information and documents.
On May 2, 2019, Chairman Wicker received a final response from then-Acting Administrator Elwell, after having received an interim response on April 4. In his response, then-Acting Administrator Elwell stated that all ASIs working to certify the Boeing 737 MAX, as well as the Gulfstream VII, were fully qualified for the activities they performed.
On July 31, 2019, Chairman Wicker sent a letter to then-Acting Administrator Elwell requesting a significant amount of documents, records of communications, and other information. Among the communications requested were “all communications between (Boeing 737 MAX chief technical pilot) Mark Forkner and FAA employees.” On September 5, 2019, committee staff agreed to prioritize and clarify several specific items in Chairman Wicker’s letter, including the request for “all communications between Mark Forkner and FAA employees.”
On September 24, 2019, the U.S Office of Special Counsel (OSC) sent letters to the President and Congress alerting them that numerous FAA ASIs were not sufficiently trained to certify pilots, including ASIs assigned to the 737 MAX and Gulfstream VII certifications. In its letter to the President, OSC characterized the FAA’s May 2 response to Chairman Wicker as “misleading.”
On October 18, 2019, the FAA provided to Senate Commerce, Senate Appropriations, House Transportation and Infrastructure, and House Appropriations copies of instant messages from 2016 between then-Boeing chief technical pilot for the 737 MAX, Captain Mark Forkner, and another Boeing employee that Boeing had provided to the Department of Transportation. These communications reveal that Captain Forkner harbored concerns about the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, a system that has emerged as a key factor in the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes.
On October 18, 2019, hours after Boeing’s disclosure of these instant messages, the FAA also provided several redacted emails between Mark Forkner and FAA employees to the same committees. An FAA document production to the committee on October 4 purported to be responsive to Chairman Wicker’s request for Mark Forkner’s communications with FAA employees, but contained none of the disturbing emails disclosed on October 18. When committee staff inquired in writing on October 7 if the October 4 production was a complete response to Chairman Wicker’s request for Mark Forkner’s communications, committee staff did not receive a response. In fact, the eighth and most recent document production received by Chairman Wicker at 6:55 p.m. on October 18 did contain emails from Mark Forkner to FAA employees, but, again, contained none of the emails disclosed earlier that day. Committee staff promptly requested un-redacted versions of the emails.
On October 23, 2019, Chairman Wicker sent a letter to FAA Administrator Dickson expressing his disappointment in the FAA’s lack of sufficient and timely responses to his requests for information. In his letter, the Chairman requested that FAA employees be made available to committee staff for interviews.
-Chairman Wicker’s April 2 Letter
-Chairman Wicker’s July 31 Letter
-US Office of Special Counsel’s Letter to the President
-Chairman Wicker’s October 23 Letter