Cantwell Opening Remarks at Hearing With FAA Administrator on Oversight of Aviation Manufacturing at Boeing

June 13, 2024

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, delivered the following opening remarks at today’s hearing to examine the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of Boeing’s aircraft manufacturing processes and production quality, including the FAA’s assessment of the recently submitted 90-day comprehensive plan by Boeing. Read FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker’s testimony and watch the hearing here.


Chair Senator Cantwell’s Opening Statement As Delivered: 

We are having the hearing this morning with FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker to discuss the FAA's oversight of aviation manufacturing, including the FAA's plans to ensure that Boeing follows through on the commitments made in its 90-day action plan. 

What this Committee and the flying public want to know is, what is the FAA doing to strengthen its oversight of the planes that we fly on every day and to make sure that they are safely built.

We need to know what change under your watch, Administrator Whitaker, will restore the proper oversight to manufacturing to achieve the excellence that we want to see at Boeing and other manufacturers, and ensure the FAA is setting the gold standard for safety oversight.

A week after the door plug incident, I sent the FAA a letter reiterating my request from a previous FAA Administrator a year before for the FAA to conduct a special audit to determine if Boeing was in compliance with FAA safety requirements for aircraft production. 

The next day, Mr. Whitaker, you did start a process. The FAA conducted 100 plus audits in January and February of things like employee training, quality control procedures, and records retention both at Boeing and its suppliers. [This] is what we are here to discuss. 

I have to say, Mr. Whitaker, the results found major safety concerns and are very concerning to me and I think to the flying public. 

You’ve identified, according to news reports, 97 instances at Boeing and 21 instances at Spirit of where the procedures and products didn't meet FAA standards. We will get into this in the Q&A. Also, in part of the information, is that the engineers themselves had trouble responding to most basic questions about quality control policies and quality management systems. 

We find these challenges frustrating. We need to have an FAA who is going to implement the very recommendations we heard from the ODA Expert Review Panel, who testified before this Committee in April. 

The panel’s report observed a disconnect between senior leadership and frontline employees on building a safety culture and found that the overall system didn't demonstrate a foundational commitment to safety.  

To your credit, Administrator Whitaker, you told Boeing that they needed to give you a plan to reform its production quality and you gave them 90 days to do so. 

Boeing has now delivered that plan to you. We want to ask questions and get comments from you on where we are. 

I am struck by a sense of, is this deja vu? Are we just back here? Or, can we really have a new day in creating a safety culture that is so critical for the United States to be the leaders in manufacturing? 

In 2022 and 2023, as part of individualized FAA conducted audits of Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, production lines required Boeing to correct any identified problems. 

Yet, your new special audit still found problems. 

It begs the question about the audit process itself at the FAA. I know that is a past Administrator, but still, what do we need to fix in our audit process if in 2022 and 2023 we already did 298 individualized audits? 

When I sent the letter to the previous Acting Administrator, he said, “We don't need to do an audit because we have specialized audits.” 

And yet, we did this audit and found out that the specialized audits didn't help us correct the problems that we see today. 

The FAA settled an agreement requiring Boeing to adopt a safety management system, yet they are still not quite there on that commitment. 

This same settlement agreement required Boeing to create a regulatory compliance plan to correct all safety failings, and yet we know that we have this plug door incident. 

The question is, what can you do to change this culture? 

You were overwhelmingly confirmed to be the agent in charge of the FAA in the system. We know that you had an overwhelming vote in the United States Senate, so we are counting on you to be that agent of change. We know that this begins by taking a hard look at the agency itself. 

In January of 2024, the former NTSB Chairman wrote in an op-ed to The Seattle Times, titled "The FAA’s Safety Culture Hasn't Changed, Either." He wrote, “While both Boeing and the FAA issued words of assurances that they would use investigations to find and correct flaws and the assurances of the industry, past pronouncements we heard about changing their safety culture appear to have been lip service.”  

Administrator Whitaker, we must prove Mr. Hall wrong. We must demonstrate the FAA is a strong oversight regulator, and that the agency can ensure that manufacturers implement Safety Management Systems. 

Both Boeing and the FAA need a strong Safety Management System, not just in name only, but one that saves lives. 

That is why Section 102 of the Aircraft Certification, Safety and Accountability Act demanded that the FAA develop a real SMS standard for manufacturers. We will have more to ask about that once we get to the Q&A. 

In our recently signed FAA bill by President Biden, we have given your agency clear direction, clear resources, and new tools to carry out that mission. 

I look forward to questioning you about how we are going to achieve that. Thank you for being here today.