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Senior FAA official embroiled in 737 MAX scandal to step down

written by Hannah Dowling | June 3, 2021
FAA Headquarters in Washington, D.C (Wikicommons)

The US Federal Aviation Administration announced on Wednesday that its top safety official, Ali Bahrami, will retire from his post at the end of this month, after the family members of 737 MAX victims called for him to be removed. He spent four years in the top role at the agency.

During his tenure at the FAA, Bahrami faced significant backlash for his response to the two fatal 737 MAX crashes, with the families of the victims requesting Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigie to see him removed.

Largely, the families of the second crash, which occurred in Ethiopia, hold the FAA – and Bahrami – responsible, as the agency did not ground the MAX immediately following the first fatal crash.

“There continue to be people employed at the FAA who also hold responsibility in this matter and who have never acknowledged the mistakes made,” said Nadia Milleron, whose daughter was killed in the second 737 MAX crash.

“These people threaten the safety of airline passengers and must be pushed to leave FAA.”

The FAA itself has also been widely criticised for its failures in the initial certification of the 737 MAX.

Despite the public calls for Bahrami’s removal, officials said he voluntarily made the decision.

Bahrami informed colleagues of his intentions in an email on Wednesday, and said that it was “not an easy decision”.

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He acknowledged that his tenure brought with it “unprecedented challenges”, likely referring not only to the 737 MAX crisis, but a lengthy government shutdown and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been blessed with an incredible career, and now it’s time for me to spend more time with my family and focus on my next chapter,” Bahrami said.

In total, the safety official spent over 30 years working for the FAA, following a number of years working for planemaker McDonnell Douglas.

The FAA has said Christopher Rocheleau, currently Bahrami’s deputy, will take over the top job temporarily, while the agency searches for a permanent replacement.

Early investigations into the 737 MAX crashes, which saw the planes grounded worldwide for nearly two years, raised questions about the FAA being too lax with Boeing in particular, given its major standing in the US market.

Concerns were largely confirmed in August 2020, when an independent ‘safety culture’ survey, taken by over 7,000 FAA staff members found staff reported a “strong” pressure by upper management to cater to major industry players, namely Boeing.

“[Employees] shared that there is an unwritten code to be more ‘liberal-minded’ (versus conservative) when assessing safety risks, and there is pressure to find win-win solutions that benefit industry,” the survey found.

Later, in September last year, a US House transportation and infrastructure committee report condemned both Boeing and the FAA for their roles in the tragic accident, following an 18-month investigation into the matter.

The House said the incidents “were not the result of a singular failure, technical mistake, or mismanaged event”, but rather the “horrific culmination” of engineering flaws, mismanagement and a severe lack of industry and federal oversight.

“Boeing failed in its design and development of the MAX, and the FAA failed in its oversight of Boeing and its certification of the aircraft,” the report said.

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