The acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration will face questions from members of the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday about the regulator’s role in approving Boeing’s now-grounded 737 Max airplane to fly.
It will be the first in a series of hearings that House Democrats plan to hold on the troubled jet, which was grounded in March after an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board. Less than five months earlier, a Lion Air 737 Max flight went down in Indonesia, killing 189 people. A flawed anti-stall system known as MCAS, which was new to the Max, played a role in both disasters.
Daniel Elwell, the F.A.A.’s acting administrator, will appear alongside the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Robert L. Sumwalt.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will question Stephen Dickson, the former Delta Air Lines executive whom President Trump has tapped to permanently lead the F.A.A., about the plane.
Representative Rick Larsen, a Democrat from Washington who heads the Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation, said he would press Mr. Elwell on the agency’s designee authorization process, a decades-old program that relies on employees at aircraft manufacturers to assist in certification. He also plans to question Mr. Elwell about the F.A.A.’s role in the development of pilot training procedures for the 737 Max, which did not include explicit mention of the MCAS system.
[Read our article about how Boeing executives resisted pilots’ urgent calls to fix the 737 Max.]
“The committee’s investigation is just getting started, and it will take some time to get answers, but one thing is clear right now: The F.A.A. has a credibility problem,” Mr. Larsen said in statement on Tuesday. “Congress has an obligation to the traveling public and the victims of these accidents and their families to ensure the safety of air travel.”
Over the past two months, the committee’s chairman, Representative Peter A. DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, has requested a trove of documents from the F.A.A. and Boeing regarding the inspection process and the review undertaken to determine the safety of MCAS. He is especially focused on why Boeing did not require pilots to undergo further training with the anti-stall system.
Mr. DeFazio has received none of the requested documents, although the F.A.A. is expected to begin releasing documents to the committee soon. It is not clear when Boeing intends to reply.
Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, a Democrat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, also sent a request to Boeing for answers on its procedures. He has received a two-page later referring to Mr. Elwell’s previous public statements but providing little new information.
Mr. Markey has invited Michael Stumo, the father Samya Stumo, 24, a Massachusetts resident who died in the Ethiopian crash, to Wednesday’s hearing on Mr. Dickson’s nomination, a spokeswoman said.
Mr. Elwell defended his agency during a contentious Senate hearing about the F.A.A.’s oversight of the 737 Max on March 27. Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who chairs the commerce committee’s aviation subcommittee, grilled him about the certification process.
“There have been longstanding concerns that have been raised about the closeness of the F.A.A. with Boeing,” Mr. Cruz said at the time.
“At this point, we don’t know that’s what caused this, but on the face of it, it certainly seems inadequate,” he added. “The pilot training material did not raise the details of this new system.”
During the Senate hearing, Mr. Elwell estimated it would cost taxpayers an additional $1.8 billion to use federal inspectors to certify all aircraft under the agency’s purview, and require hiring 10,000 new F.A.A. employees.
“Despite what you might read in the press, I believe the F.A.A. still is the gold standard, still has the credibility around the world to make change,” said Mr. Elwell, a former aviation industry lobbyist.