In 2011, the DOT’s Office of Inspector General criticized the FAA for losing control of its oversight and risking safety. It cited one company designee, acting on behalf of the FAA, who took his employer’s view in a dispute over whether an aircraft fuel system met agency standards. The manufacturer took a year to suspend the employee from FAA duty. The company was not identified in the report.
The FAA and the inspector general do not agree on how to weed out unwanted designees. The FAA says it is creating a new database of employees removed from consideration because of “misconduct”; the inspector general’s office wants a broader set of employees to be included.
The FAA has been criticized beginning early in the Dreamliner program for skimping on supplier visits, as well.
In the first four years of the Dreamliner program, between 2003-2007, FAA officials visited only 1 percent of suppliers at Boeing and other major engine and planemakers, and left unchecked thousands of factories that would go on to make parts for the 787, according to another report by the same Office of Inspector General, this one from 2008. All parts for U.S. planes must be FAA certified at some point, but that can happen as part of the final assembly of a plane rather than at the factories where they are made.
The same report described how a worker at one factory - it is unclear if it was a supplier to Boeing or another planemaker - used a piece of paper, instead of a ruler, to measure parts. Another used a tool marked “uncalibrated.” One supplier made a part fit by grinding away an edge, without permission from the manufacturer, and training overall was deemed inadequate.
The FAA made a number of changes in response to the report, but it only raised the minimum number of supplier visits at major manufacturers to nine a year from four, a spokesman for the inspector general told Reuters.
All FAA inspectors are based in the United States, even though much of the 787 airframe and many key components like the battery are made outside the country, raising the question of whether distance might make them less likely to visit. Inspectors travel when necessary, the FAA said. In its own statement, Boeing said that “in addition to requiring frequent and detailed progress reporting, during the development and design phase we regularly had people on site with our suppliers and they had people on site with Boeing.”
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