"Yes", Federal Aviation Authority chief Stephen Dickson said on Wednesday when asked if the FAA was mistaken in allowing the Max to remain on the air after the first crash.
While Dickson admitted to the FAA’s fault on Wednesday, he told the congressional hearing that the US aviation safety system is not broken "but improvements can be made".
He denied lawmakers’ suggestions that FAA staff prioritized certification over safety in the interest of meeting work and compensation targets.
Dickson said US aviation safety standards were on par with those in Europe and added that human, or pilot, an error was sometimes as big a factor to accidents as machine, or system, error.
"As cockpits become more and more automated over the decades, the job of flying a plane doesn’t get easier", Dickson said. "It’s important to keep the pilot engaged with the flight path. Humans are not very good passive monitors".
Dickson also told reporters just before the start of Wednesday’s hearing that the FAA will not allow the Max to take to the air before 2020 amid more checks on the planes. A former air force pilot, Dickson said he would fly the Max himself before certifying it airworthy.
Evidence shows a senior Boeing production executive who discovered preliminary problems with Max tried in vain to get the company to make changes to the plane four months before the first crash. Investigations have since revealed that errors in the functioning of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System were the likely cause of the crashes.
On top of Boeing’s own safety lapses amid evidence showing the plane maker’s top executives delayed in making engineering changes that could have averted both crashes, lawmakers are also taking the FAA to task for weak certification procedures that allowed the Max to escape scrutiny.
The congressional hearing was focused on two crashes - the first involving an Indonesian Lion Air flight in October 2018 and the second, an Ethiopian Airlines flight in March - that killed a total of 346 people.
Dickson’s admission of mistake came after Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg had owned up in October to the company faults in leading up to the crashes.