U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Steve Dickson said he expects the agency’s review of the work Boeing has done to get the 737 MAX recertified will be completed soon, but he set no timetable and indicated cooperation with regulators outside the U.S. will be critical.
“We expect the review to be completed in the not-too-distant future,” Dickson told the Flight Safety Foundation’s virtual International Air Safety Summit (IASS) on Oct. 19. “We are making excellent progress. We continue to narrow the issues and work milestone by milestone.”
Dickson noted he recently visited Boeing Commercial Airplanes headquarters in Seattle to go through training to fly the revamped 737 MAX on a simulator and then fly the aircraft itself for several hours as the lead pilot. “It was important to me as a pilot to experience the training and handling of the aircraft first-hand,” said Dickson, a former pilot with Delta Air Lines. “I have full confidence that the new training standards, once completed, will be sufficient.”
Dickson emphasized there is no “set schedule” for recertifying the 737 MAX, which has been grounded for 19 months.
The 737 MAX entered service in 2017. The first of two fatal MAX accidents occurred the following year, on Oct. 29, 2018, when Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 passengers and crew. Five months later, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing all 157 occupants.
737 MAX aircraft were subsequently grounded globally, and Boeing has since been working to correct problems that were blamed for the accidents. It is seeking FAA recertification of the aircraft by the end of this year, and has expressed confidence it will receive the FAA’s stamp of approval.
The FAA and regulatory authorities from around the world “have worked tirelessly with Boeing” to make sure the revamped 737 MAX will be safe to fly, he said. Of particular focus will be the new maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS), which contains software designed to automatically push the aircraft’s nose down under specific conditions, and new training standards for pilots.
He noted that the in-service aircraft that have been grounded need to be inspected carefully before returning to service. “We have to make sure aircraft are perfect before they go out there again,” he said. “Imagine your car sitting in a garage for 19 months.”
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has test-flown the 737 MAX. EASA’s approval, as well as those of other regulators around the world, will be key steps for Boeing and the FAA, which does not want to walk alone in recertifying the aircraft.
“The transparency and the outreach that we’ve demonstrated over the last year [with foreign regulators] has borne tremendous dividends,” Dickson said. “There are a certain demographic of airlines and pilots I can regulate [U.S. airlines and pilots], but I don’t have direct influence around the world … But I understand the public’s expectation is there should be the same very high safety bar around the world,” especially for aircraft manufactured in the U.S., he said.