what is the most significant update for the troubled jet, the FAA has cleared Boeing’s 737 MAX to fly again, 20 months after the fleet was grounded globally following two fatal crashes. The decision was announced by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) just months after a highly critical congressional report accused the watchdog itself of contributing to a “horrific culmination” of failures before the accidents.
The FAA said the airworthiness certificate would allow deliveries and US commercial flights to resume by the year’s end – subject to pilot training being agreed.
It is unclear when European regulators, who have worked closely with their American counterparts, were to follow suit.
The grounding was in response to fears that flight control software, known as MCAS and designed to emulate handling of other Boeing aircraft, was responsible for two fatal crashes, Lion Air in Indonesia, and Ethiopian Airlines in Ethiopia.
MCAS – a system that pilots had been unaware of – became the focal point for a series of design changes demanded by the FAA which resulted in extensive testing both on the ground and in the air with the aim of restoring public trust.
The watchdog explained yesterday why the planes could not use US airspace just yet.
Its statement said: “The FAA must approve 737 MAX pilot training programme revisions for each US airline operating the MAX and will retain its authority to issue airworthiness certificates and export certificates of airworthiness for all new 737 MAX aircraft manufactured since the FAA issued the grounding order.
“Furthermore, airlines that have parked their MAX aircraft must take required maintenance steps to prepare them to fly again.”
Industry sources familiar with the branding say the ‘MAX’ name will likely be phased out over time as a strategy unfolds among airlines to de-emphasise the “MAX” label in favour of the formal names assigned to each variant, like “737-7” or “737-8.”
“You will see the MAX name used less frequently,” one of the sources told Reuters. Another person involved in discussions over the marketing predicted the MAX name would gradually fade in coming years.
“Our customers will be able to easily identify whether they are travelling on a 737 MAX even if schedules change,” says American Airlines spokesperson Curtis Blessing. “The aircraft type will be visible through the booking path, and if schedules change, there will be notification.”
United Airlines is promising passengers that they’ll be able to rebook if they don’t want to fly the MAX.
Southwest Airlines, meanwhile – which had the largest MAX fleet in the US before the grounding – says it will take longer, suggesting three to four months from the legal ungrounding to returning to service.
Southwest chief operating officer Mike Van de Ven said, in an industry earnings call in October, “We’ve got significant operational experience with the aircraft. It is our most cost-effective aircraft. It is our most reliable aircraft. It is our most environmentally friendly aircraft, and it’s our most comfortable aircraft. So we really look forward to flying it again.”
“The FAA’s directive is an important milestone,” said Stan Deal, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide.”
In addition to changes made to the airplane and pilot training, Boeing said it has taken three important steps to strengthen its focus on safety and quality:
1. Organisational Alignment: More than 50,000 engineers have been brought together in a single organisation that includes a new Product & Services Safety unit, unifying safety responsibilities across the company.
2. Cultural Focus: Engineers have been further empowered to improve safety and quality. The company is identifying, diagnosing and resolving issues with a higher level of transparency and immediacy.
3. Process Enhancements: By adopting next-generation design processes, the company is enabling greater levels of first-time quality.
“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” said David Calhoun, chief executive officer of The Boeing Company. “These events and the lessons we have learned as a result have reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity.”
However, after damning revelations in investigations into Boeing, its regulator the FAA, and the relationship between them – including the US House Transportation Committee’s report, which states clearly that “Boeing failed in its design and development of the MAX, and the FAA failed in its oversight of Boeing and its certification of the aircraft” – international aviation safety regulation agencies are insisting on making up their own minds.
In addition to the key decisions by Europe’s aviation regulator, EASA, and China’s CAAC, certification from smaller independent regulators in key countries like Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore and the UAE will be crucial.
There is also, for Boeing and the US, a wider China the increasingly complicated politico-economic relations between the United States and China feature US exporter Boeing as a key player.
Source: Civil Aviation Authority-Qatar