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DOT launches committee to review FAA aircraft certification

The US Department of Transportation is seeking applicants for an independent special committee to review the Federal Aviation Administration's certification process of new aircraft including the Boeing 737 Max following two fatal crashes of that aircraft type within five months.

“This review by leading outside experts will help determine if improvements can be made to the FAA aircraft certification process,” US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao says in a statement.

The special committee to review the FAA's certification process will be formed from applications filed online through the Federal Register. The members will report to Chao and the FAA administrator. The former head of the US Transportation Command, Darren McDrew and former president of the Air Line Pilots Association Lee Moak will serve as interim co-chairs in the meantime.

The DOT's creation of the special committee follows a request by Chao earlier this month for the DOT inspector general to carry out an audit of the certification process of the 737 Max.

The crashes of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 and Lion Air flight 610, both of which were operated with relatively new 737 Max aircraft, prompted regulators around the globe to ground those aircraft out of safety concerns after 346 people died in the crashes. The FAA faced intense criticism for being among the last aviation regulators to do so on 13 March.

Boeing responded to safety concerns on 14 March by halting deliveries of 737 Max aircraft, hundreds of which have already been ordered by airlines worldwide. The airframer says it will build 52 of those aircraft per month even when they are not being delivered.

Safety officials worry the Ethiopian crash and the Lion Air could be related to flight control software called the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System, designed to prevent aircraft from stalling but which made it difficult for the pilots to maintain altitude.

"The FAA’s ongoing review of this software installation and training is an agency priority, as will be the roll-out of any software, training, or other measures to operators of the 737 Max," the FAA has said.

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