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U.S. FAA chief to testify at hearing on jet certification after 737 MAX crashes

FILE PHOTO: Boeing 737 Max aircraft are parked in a parking lot at Boeing Field in this aerial photo taken over Seattle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the Federal Aviation Administration is set to testify on Wednesday before a Senate committee on the safety certification of jetliners like Boeing Co’s 737 MAX, still grounded after fatal crashes.

The Senate Commerce committee hearing at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) gives lawmakers a chance to question FAA Administrator Steve Dickson about bipartisan legislation introduced Tuesday that would grant the FAA more power over Boeing’s aircraft designs.

The proposal marks the most significant step toward reforms following the 2018 and 2019 737 MAX crashes, which killed 346 people in a five-month span and triggered investigations into how Boeing and the FAA determine aircraft meet safety requirements.

Boeing has failed to win regulatory approval to resume commercial service of its money-spinning 737 MAX since the plane was grounded worldwide in March 2019, plunging the Chicago-based manufacturer into a crisis long since compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wednesday’s hearing may also focus on airline policies over face masks and other provisions designed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus globally as air travel gradually returns to normal levels.

The Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020, introduced on Tuesday, would give the agency new authority to hire or remove Boeing employees conducting FAA certification tasks, and grant new whistleblower protections to employees, among other provisions.

While victims’ family members applauded such reforms, they are also demanding that critical aircraft systems – like the MCAS flight control system linked to both crashes – be approved by the FAA, not just Boeing, and that manufacturers must be required to re-certify new aircraft derived from earlier models.

“The bill still lacks teeth,” said Chris Moore, whose daughter died in the 737 MAX crash in Ethiopia.

(Reporting by Washington bureau; Writing and additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Tom Brown)

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