In the wake of two airline crashes and an emergency landing involving the Boeing 737 MAX plane, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has established what it says is an expert Special Committee to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) procedures for certifying new aircraft.

A March 10, 2018 crash involving an Ethiopian Airlines flight claimed the lives of all 157 people aboard. The October 29 crash of a Lion Air plane into the Java Sea off Indonesia killed its 189 passengers and crew. Both incidents occurred shortly after takeoff, as did the emergency landing that occurred on Tuesday at Orlando International Airport. The Florida incident, which involved a Southwest Airlines flight, had no fatalities.

Did regulators rely on Boeing's data?

The MAX model, along with the process used to certify it, has drawn considerable scrutiny since the Indonesian tragedy. The DOT is investigating whether or not regulators relied on Boeing’s own safety evaluations during the certification process, and is one of the agencies scheduled to testify today at a U.S. Senate aviation subcommittee hearing. Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board will also testify.

The DOT’s Special Committee will include Air Force General (Ret.) Darren McDew, former head of the U.S. Transportation Command, and Captain Lee Moak, former President of the Air Line Pilots Association, who have agreed to serve as the interim co-chairs of the Special Committee pending the appointment of other members.

"Outside experts"

“Safety is the number one priority of the Department, and this review by leading outside experts will help determine if improvements can be made to the FAA aircraft certification process,” said Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.

The Special Committee to Review FAA’s Aircraft Certification Process is an independent body whose findings and recommendations will be presented directly to the Secretary and the FAA Administrator. The Special Committee is being formed within the structure of the Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee (SOCAC), created by Section 202 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.  The SOCAC will provide advice and recommendations on issues facing the aviation community related to the FAA’s safety oversight and certification programs and activities.

The SOCAC will be composed of individuals representing a diverse group of stakeholders in the aviation industry. The Department is soliciting candidates to be members of the SOCAC through the Federal Register.

Members of the public who wish to be considered for membership on the SOCAC must submit the required information outlined in the Department’s Federal Register notice, a copy of which is available here.

Boeing, meanwhile, has reportedly completed software upgrades for its MAX 737s aimed at preventing similar crashes in the future.