Front-line aviation safety specialists for the U.S. government say they fear industry concerns come first, and that senior managers aren’t held accountable for pro-business decisions, according to the results of an employee survey.
Surveys and focus groups of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees conducted in the wake of two fatal crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX found widespread concern among the agency’s field employees. Some of the polling was done anonymously.
A summary of the results was sent to Congress on Friday and obtained by Bloomberg News.
Only 39% of respondents said that industry has an appropriate level of influence on FAA safety decisions, the survey found.
“They [industry] just keep going up the chain until they get the answers they want,” said one employee, who wasn’t identified.
The survey is the latest to shine a light on the FAA and how it operates. The 737 MAX was certified by the agency with a flawed flight-control system that helped lead to two crashes that killed 346 people. The plane has been grounded for almost 18 months.
Results of the survey were first reported by Reuters.
After the MAX crashes the FAA hired an outside contractor to survey employees in its aviation safety division, which oversees aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing as well as airlines and others. “It is completely unacceptable that there are employees who lack confidence that their safety concerns are taken seriously,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson wrote to lawmakers this week.
“Because FAA’s safety mission is so critical to our nation’s aviation system, I am determined to see to it that FAA achieves a just culture in support of our rank-and-file aviation safety professionals,” Dickson wrote.
The agency is creating a program in which employees can make voluntary safety reports anonymously, Dickson said.
The union representing the engineers who oversee Boeing’s aircraft designs said it has been calling for a better internal reporting system, and welcomed the change. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association said it is still evaluating the survey results.
Some employees said they were disappointed that no senior FAA managers had been held accountable for the MAX crashes; Boeing made several management changes.
“One reason people distrust upper management is because of communications from leadership that ‘our processes are fine,’ even after 340-plus people died,” said one FAA worker.
The most pronounced lack of trust was among employees in Seattle, the office that oversaw the 737 MAX, the survey found.
Employee concerns went beyond the FAA. Many reported that industry officials will go to Congress if they believe local inspectors are “getting in their way,” the survey summary said.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a statement Friday that she has urged Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to support a return to an older system of oversight of the company employees who are designated to represent the FAA on safety inspections. She said FAA officials, not Boeing managers, should oversee those inspectors.