Audit Reports

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Timeline of Activities Leading to the Certification of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 Aircraft and Actions Taken After the October 2018 Lion Air Accident

Requested by Secretary Elaine L. Chao; the Chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure and Aviation Subcommittee; the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Transportation-HUD Subcommittee; and Senator Blumenthal
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What We Looked At
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for the safety and certification of all civilian aircraft manufactured and operated in the United States. However, two accidents in late 2018 and early 2019 involving Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft raised significant safety concerns about FAA’s certification of this aircraft. On March 19, 2019, Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao requested that we compile an objective and detailed factual history of the activities that resulted in the certification of the 737 MAX 8. We also received similar requests from the Chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Aviation; the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies; and Senator Richard Blumenthal. They requested that we review aspects of FAA’s approach to certifying the MAX series of aircraft, its reliance on the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program, and the Agency’s actions following the two accidents. Our overall audit objective was to determine and evaluate FAA’s process for certifying the Boeing 737 MAX series of aircraft.

What We Found
In this report, we provide a detailed timeline of the activities resulting in the certification of the 737 MAX 8, beginning in January 2012, when Boeing submitted its initial application for an Amended Type Certificate to FAA. This report also compiles a timeline of events following the October 29, 2018, crash of Lion Air Flight 610 up until the crash of Ethiopian Air Flight 302 on March 10, 2019. In addition, during the same time period as FAA’s certification efforts, Boeing, FAA, and our office were identifying issues that—although not specific to the 737 MAX 8—may have impacted the original certification of the aircraft. As such, we also provided a timeline of concurrent related oversight actions and events related to FAA’s ODA program.

Our Recommendations
We are not making recommendations in this report. The data gathered are informational and represent our observations in response to the Secretary’s and other congressional requests. We will report further on FAA’s oversight of the certification process and other related matters, as well as make recommendations as applicable, in future reports.