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Senate Examines FAA's Certification Of Boeing's Troubled 737 Max Airplane

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The FAA is facing bipartisan outrage today. Senators from both parties are accusing the agency of stonewalling Congressional investigators in their effort to examine what went wrong in certifying Boeing's troubled 737 Max airplane. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: In a Senate hearing on proposed changes to aircraft certification, Roger Wicker, chairman of the Commerce Committee, started on a contentious note. He called out FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson and his agency for not turning over many key documents more than a year after congressional investigators began asking for them.

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ROGER WICKER: It is hard not to conclude your team at the FAA has deliberately attempted to keep us in the dark.

SCHAPER: Wicker and others accused the agency of stonewalling as if officials have something to hide. Dickson politely disagreed.

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STEPHEN DICKSON: I believe it's inaccurate to portray the agency as unresponsive.

SCHAPER: The committee is investigating allegations that the relationship between the FAA and Boeing is too cozy, resulting in rubber-stamp approvals when the FAA certified the troubled 737 Max. Two of the planes crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing 346 people, and the commercial jet has been grounded ever since. Democrat Tom Udall of New Mexico.

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TOM UDALL: Boeing's efforts to push for more self-certification and to push the FAA to move faster and faster to approve the 737 Max were totally counterproductive and resulted in tragedy. This continues to be a case study of the complete and total failure of self-regulation.

SCHAPER: Asked if Boeing lied to regulators about a key flight control system on the Max, Dickson told senators the company definitely provided incomplete and fragmented information.

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DICKSON: The manufacturer made mistakes, and the FAA made mistakes in its oversight of the manufacturer.

SCHAPER: The committee is considering legislation strengthening FAA oversight and revamping certification. But families of those killed in the two Max plane crashes were disappointed today.

ZIPPORAH KURIA: Dickson is just full of empty sentiments and empty promises.

SCHAPER: Zipporah Kuria's father was killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

KURIA: The amount of pain that we feel by the fact that it's been a year after our loved one's death and nobody has still been held accountable.

SCHAPER: Kuria and other family members expressed little confidence that the FAA can regain their trust, especially as Boeing works to get the 737 Max recertified this summer.

David Schaper, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.