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Washington, Oregon lawmakers cite ‘astonishing’ new concerns over Boeing planes

Grounded 737 MAX jets at Seattle's Boeing Field. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

A pair of Pacific Northwest Congressmen are raising what they consider to be “new and serious concerns” about Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration.

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Those concerns were outlined on Thursday in a letter to the FAA, from Oregon Rep. Pete DeFazio and Washington Rep. Rick Larsen, who chair the U.S. House Transportation Committee and Aviation Subcommittee respectively.

The transportation committee has been in the midst of an investigation over Boeing’s 737 MAX, following a pair of deadly crashes caused by a malfunctioning safety system in the 737 MAX. Now, DeFazio and Larsen are voicing their concerns over a pair of other problems with Boeing’s planes.

“We are concerned about two additional safety issues about which we have received detailed information,” the letter reads. “Both appear to involve serious, potentially catastrophic safety concerns raised by FAA technical specialists that FAA management ultimately overruled after Boeing objected.”

The first of those two issues encompasses “the adequacy of rudder cable protection” in the 737 MAX, which could potentially cause the cable to sever, and cause a “catastrophic loss of control.”

The second is the removal of copper foil from a part of the 787 Dreamliner’s wing, reducing protection from possible lightning strikes — which Larsen and DeFazio qualify as “a fairly routine occurrence” with aircrafts — and “increas[ing] the number of ignition sources in the fuel tanks.” That occurred despite objections from the FAA against the design change. Before those concerns were raised, Boeing had already built 40 planes without seeking approval from the FAA.

For both of these issues, the letter alleges that senior FAA management overruled its own safety specialists to allow Boeing to construct its planes with the described flaws.

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“If accurate, this is an astonishing fact that suggests either willful neglect of the Federal aviation regulatory structure or an oversight system in need of desperate repair,” DeFazio and Larsen’s letter continues.

In closing, the letter asks the FAA to detail its regulatory processes “to ensure that manufacturers do not have an incentive to attempt end runs around FAA technical specialists by going to senior FAA management.”

The FAA was given until Nov. 21 to respond.

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