However, his starting point seemed to be very trusting of Boeing’s software fix and quick to downplay the magnitude of Boeing’s decision to change the engine position of the MAX.
A major hurdle for the NTSB is its limited authority. Chairman Sumwalt explained how the NTSB is a reactive agency by statute and cannot initiate a more proactive investigation into the MAX certification process and the FAA.
An investigation into the 737 MAX certification would have to be done by DOT/FAA on their own accord or under the direction of Congress.
The problem is Congress, believing the FAA lacked expertise and budget, increased the scope of ODA in the last re-authorization bill.
The Chairman emphasized that the NTSB (and the FAA to a lesser extent) simply do not have the technical expertise or legal authority, and must rely on Boeing for the technical expertise.
The Chairman tried to argue that modifications are made to planes all the time, requiring Boeing to compensate with a new feature. His point was the engine position change was just another change of this nature, but we impressed upon him that this change was so fundamentally different because it made the plane unstable (in addition to the defects of MCAS and its implementation).
We discussed the FAA’s practice of grandfathering and waivers, emphasizing that either the MAX should be the last 737 variant, or that the MAX should have to be re-certified as a new family of aircraft.
And with Captain Sullenberger’s permission, we conveyed his position that the FAA should mandate simulator training for MAX pilots.
He seemed willing to explore having public meetings to bring public attention to the issues, and that seems to be most promising area for action by the NTSB.
We urged the Chairman not to rest on a track record of safety as an excuse not to conduct oversight and stop preventable accidents.