By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agreed to pay $90,000 to an aviation safety inspector who faced retaliation for raising concerns about unqualified flight safety inspectors, a U.S. agency said Monday.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said the whistleblower aviation employee disclosed flight inspectors were certifying pilots and conducting safety “check rides” even though they lacked necessary formal training and certifications.
OSC, an office that reviews whistleblower allegations, said the FAA’s Office of Audit & Evaluation “substantiated the whistleblower’s allegations, calling into question the operational review of several aircraft, including the Boeing 737 MAX and the Gulfstream VII.”
The FAA said it “takes all whistleblower allegations seriously and does not tolerate retaliation against those who raise safety concerns.”
In September, OSC said the FAA appeared to have been “misleading in their portrayal of FAA employee training and competency” in providing Congress information about some safety inspectors who were involved in assessing training requirements for the Boeing 737 MAX.
The 737 MAX has been grounded since March after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed a combined 346 people. The certification process for the MAX has come under scrutiny.
The FAA said in September that all of “the Aviation Safety Inspectors who participated in the evaluation of the Boeing 737 MAX were fully qualified for those activities.” The agency denied misleading Congress.
The FAA found that after disclosing the problem, “the whistleblower faced retaliation. The whistleblower decided to take a new position in another city in order to escape what he believed was pervasive harassment,” the OSC said. “After he made the disclosures, his managers also allegedly removed his duties and denied training requests, flight certifications, and job training opportunities.”
OSC said that during the investigation, the whistleblower’s then-manager retired, so it did not seek disciplinary action.
The head of the Office of Special Counsel, Henry Kerner, said in September the “FAA’s failure to ensure safety inspector competency for these aircraft puts the flying public at risk.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Editing by Franklin Paul and Matthew Lewis)