In light of the most recent aircraft crash of Ethiopian Airline’s flight 409, we want to lay out a quick overview about how air safety regulations are being made and what’s now coming under scrutiny in the United States. As a well-known fact, the aerospace sector offers one of the safest mood of transportations in the world. Chances are higher you will be hit with a coconut than being involved in an plane crash. However, people may ask themselves: How are air safety regulations being made? Who are the key stakeholders? Who ensures that air safety applies around the globe?
Let’s deep dive in.
The Foundation: Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation and ICAO
The Chiacgo Convention on International Civil Aviation was assembled in 1944 and initially had 52 signatory countries. It laid out the foundation for common rules on aircraft registration, safety and general air travel regulations, such as entering a country’s airspace. Today, all members of the United Nations, except Liechtenstein and Dominica have ratified the convention. The convention is the basis for the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). ICAO is a specialised agency of the United Nations which steers and manages regulatory issues and policies of all its members. Furthermore, it is responsible for its audit programmes on aviation safety. This includes aspects on the ground, i.e. airports but also the manufacturing.
Each country maintains its sovereign rights
Since each country does have the sovereignty over its airspace, a country can enforce different standards to define the airworthiness of an aircraft. In the past, manufacturer and airlines had to build and order different types of aircraft to ensure that they can operate from one country to another. In the long-run, this would result into less economic affordability and practicability as global airlines would need to order different aircrafts for different destinations. Here comes ICAO in play.
The right to ground a different aircraft is still in the hands of the government’s aviation authority. That’s why you saw the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) grounding the Boeing 747 MAX much later than the British’s Aviation Authority or that one of Australia. The determination whether an aircraft is no longer safe and airworthy will be evaluated in each individual country. However, in the eyes of many industry experts and insiders, aviation authorities have different “quality standards”. For example, UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) maintains a golden standards amongst the aerospace world. Shortly after the UK and China announced the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX on UK’s airspace, Australia, Singapore and all members of the European Union followed that decision.
Calls for investigations in Boeing’s relationship with the FAA
The Washington Post has laid out the fundamental core issue about aircrafts’ certifications that are necessary in order to deliver orders to global airliners. An aviation authority grants the airworthiness of an aircraft that is necessary in order to fly. The FAA has had a long-standing reputation in the aviation world. As investigators from different countries are now examining the crash site, reporters, US lawmakers and industry insiders call for an investigation into Boeing’s relationships with the government authority.When an LION flight 610, which also used a Boeing 737 MAX, crashed in Indonesia, both Boeing and the FAA issued similarly and euphemistically statements to declare the aircraft as safe.
Records show that the FAA grants a “self-certification” process for aircraft manufacturers. In other words, employees from Boeing do a self-certification with the FAA’s official processes.The authority itself neither has the technical expertise nor the personnel to evaluate millions of code and thousands of little assemblies to determine the airworthiness of an aircraft. US lawmakers call for investigations to take a closer look to Boeing’s relationship with the authority as there are serious concerns about the delegation of the certification process which has become a practical norm since the 1990s.
Header Image: Product Image of the Boeing 737 MAX / Boeing Media Centre (boeing.com)