The Federal Aviation Administration needs more workers to bolster its oversight of companies like Boeing, to better evaluate aircraft certification programmes and to help improve runway safety at US airports.

That is according to FAA administrator Michael Whitaker, who on 6 February told US lawmakers the agency is also evaluating possible changes to the self-regulatory scheme under which it gives Boeing authority to oversee aspects of aircraft certification.

“I think we are going to need more boots on the ground. I think we are going to need more inspectors,” Whitaker says, speaking during a meeting of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. “We don’t have that many inspectors on the aircraft certification side of the house.”

Boeing's Renton 737 production line

Source: Boeing

Whitaker says the FAA now has about two dozen inspectors at Boeing’s facilities

His comments came as the FAA faces pressure to address safety concerns highlighted by the 5 January in-flight failure of a door-plug on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9.

Whitaker says the FAA is evaluating Boeing’s self-regulation under the FAA’s Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) process, noting that the agency has “tasked” research company Mitre “to give us a view on what the options are”.

The FAA has previously hired Mitre to conduct surveys and studies. Neither the company nor the FAA responded to questions about the ongoing ODA review.

Whitaker insists the FAA has hiked its oversight of Boeing since the 5 January incident, which appears to have been caused by a manufacturing quality problem.

The agency now has “about two dozen” inspectors on-site with Boeing, and “maybe half a dozen” inspectors working at 737-fuselage supplier Spirit AeroSystems, he says, calling Boeing’s quality issues “unacceptable”.

Separately, the FAA is responding to a rash incidents last year involving aircraft nearly colliding at US airports. In 2023, the regulator “held over 100 runway safety meeting at airports”, began deploying “tower simulation training systems” at 95 US airports, and tasked a committee to recommend technologies to improve runaway safety. Whitaker expects to receive the committee’s interim recommendations this year.

He also says the FAA is hiring more controllers, having received enough funding in fiscal year 2024 to hire 300 more controllers than it hired in FY2022.

Asked about further runway safety improvements, Whitaker says, “We don’t have any… barriers except the capacity of manpower.”