FAA Chief Plans to Pledge ‘More Boots on the Ground’ at Plane Factories

FAA Chief Plans to Pledge ‘More Boots on the Ground’ at Plane Factories

The Federal Aviation Administration’s top official plans to tell a House panel on Tuesday that the agency will step up its on-the-ground presence monitoring aircraft manufacturing.

The official, Mike Whitaker, will appear before lawmakers one month after a door panel blew out of a Boeing 737 Max 9 jet while in flight, raising new questions about Boeing’s quality-control practices, as well as the F.A.A.’s oversight of the plane maker.

“Going forward, we will have more boots on the ground closely scrutinizing and monitoring production and manufacturing activities,” Mr. Whitaker plans to say in his testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee, according to excerpts released by his agency.

“Boeing employees are encouraged to use our F.A.A. hotline to report any safety concerns,” Mr. Whitaker plans to say. “And we will consider the full extent of our enforcement authority to ensure Boeing is held accountable for any noncompliance.”

The episode with the door panel, known as a door plug, occurred on an Alaska Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Portland, Ore., on Jan. 5. The F.A.A. quickly grounded similar Max 9 jets. In late January, it said they could return to the skies after being inspected.

The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to release its preliminary report about the episode as soon as Tuesday.

Over the past month, the F.A.A. has staked out a hard line against Boeing, barring the company from expanding production of the 737 Max series until it addresses quality-control issues. It is yet another crisis for the plane maker involving the Max, coming on the heels of two deadly crashes involving Max 8 jets in 2018 and 2019.

The episode with the door plug has also prompted scrutiny of the F.A.A.’s track record monitoring Boeing and its longstanding practice of allowing the plane maker’s employees to perform safety work on the government’s behalf.

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Jhon W. Hasvest

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