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  • 1.  Civil engineers and FAA

    Posted 01-08-2020 02:01 PM

    I know that some civil engineers, especially those in the structural discipline, work in the U.S. aircraft industry (e.g., Boeing). Perhaps you, or others, can help answer a question that arose in my research but for which I have not be able to find an answer.


    Some background:

    * In April 2015, five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) ordered that a P.E. be involved in the a well casing and cementing design process and certify the resulting casing and well design for off-shore oil wells before a permit is issued.

    * Eight months after the Boeing 737 MAX 8 crash occurred, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) order Boeing to cease inspecting its own aircraft -- FAA will conduct the inspections. Note: Boeing operates under engineering licensure exemptions.


    My question: Does the FAA, like the BSEE, have the authority to order that P.E.s be in responsible charge of the design of aircraft?


    Second question, if anyone cares to comment: What are the pros and cons of working as an engineer, licensed or not, for a business that operates under engineering licensure exemption laws? I ask this question because my studies reveal that only about 60 percent of civil and environmental engineers are licensed. Therefore, many of the other 40 percent or so must be happily, or at least satisfactorily, employed elsewhere for manufacturers, industries, utilities, governmental entities, and other employers who legally operate under exemptions to licensure. 

    Thank you for considering my questions.


    Stu Walesh PhD, PE
    Consultant - Teacher - Author

  • 2.  RE: Civil engineers and FAA

    Posted 01-15-2020 05:39 PM
    Edited by Stuart Walesh 01-18-2020 11:43 AM
    I can't respond directly to your first question, but would have to think that Boeing - or any large company for that matter - has work processes that mimic the intent of responsible charge, without possibly the requirement for the person at the helm to be a PE. I also don't think there's any (statistical) difference in the quality of engineers or line supervision between PE led and exempt industries. A difference, however, might be that PEs have legal exposure. This can be be huge driver in human behavior. 

    With respect to your second question, it takes someone who's worked in both an exempt industry and PE led company to objectively answer. My belief is the answer is more subtle than you might think. Exempt industries, while driven by profit, cannot afford to be reckless and need disciplined work processes and solid controls on competence, review, approval, and compliance. I speak as a licensed engineer who spent my career in an license exempt (for the most part) industry.


    Mitchell Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX

  • 3.  RE: Civil engineers and FAA

    Posted 01-18-2020 09:35 PM

    Thank you for your response -- your thoughts, based on your employment experience, are most appreciated.

    Let's say, for discussion purposes, that in the exemption environment, licensed and unlicensed engineers bring equal competence. What then, if any, is the impact of the PE's ethical obligations, including his or her stated commitment to one or more codes?

    Here's one view, admittedly extreme, by Elliot Krause author of the 1996 book Death of the Guilds: "The codes of engineering societies are mere pieces of paper..."


    Stu Walesh PhD, PE
    Consultant - Teacher - Author

  • 4.  RE: Civil engineers and FAA

    Posted 01-20-2020 09:25 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 01-20-2020 09:24 PM

    From my experience, I agree with Stuart Walsh and his quote from Elliot Krause.  I worked with some fine, qualified, and professional engineers who were not licensed.  I have also worked with some fully licensed engineers who were either NOT qualified or so corrupt as to be scary!  The corrupt P.E.s I worked with were usually principles in the firms or owners of firms.  But, most of the licensed engineers I have worked with were not only competent but highly professional and ethical, including the ones in firms owned by profit driven, unethical engineers?  
    So, how does that differ from Boeing's latest fiasco?  

    James Justin Mercier, P.E.
    Life Member ASCE
    Sr. Life Member IEEE
    Austin Texas