EU safety watchdog: Boeing 737 Max can fly again

The US' FAA is also in the final stages of recertification

Europe’s aviation safety regulator is ready to clear Boeing’s 737 Max passenger jet for a return to service, with an official declaration expected to be issued by the end of November. This would remove a substantial barrier to the single-aisle aircraft’s global return to service after it was grounded for two fatal crashes that killed 346 people.

As FT reminds, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has insisted on closer oversight of the recertification process since the jet was grounded in March 2019, when it emerged that a faulty anti-stall system had contributed to the crashes. Since then, inquiries have found that Boeing concealed information from regulators and pilots about the systems’ weaknesses. Thereafter, the US Federal Aviation Administration has come under heavy fire at home and abroad for its weak oversight of the development of the 737 Max and Boeing itself has spent billions to repair the problem and in compensating victims and airlines. 

Now, almost a year and a half later Patrick Ky, executive director of the EASA, told Bloomberg Friday that he’s satisfied with the changes Boeing has made to the aircraft, adding that the agency was performing final document reviews ahead of a draft airworthiness directive it expects to issue next month and that the aircraft could return to the region’s skies before the end of 2020.

The announcement, however, comes despite the fact Boeing is yet to implement a software upgrade that the European agency demanded. It could be two years before it’s ready. 

In his interview, Ky also touched on the issue, saying he expected the next variant of the Max to include a third synthetic sensor to add to the revamped system on the existing aircraft. It would take 20-24 months for the third sensor to be developed, he estimated.

“We think that it is overall a good development which will increase the level of safety,” he said.

“It’s not available now and it will be available at the same time as the Max 10 is expected to be certified,” he claimed. 

However, the bigger question is how many customers will want to take the aircraft. Airlines are under pressure from the collapse in global air travel and orders for more than 1,000 737 Max jets have been cancelled.

“Recertification had been well flagged,” said Nick Cunningham, aerospace analyst with Agency Partners. “But with 1,006 net cancellations or changes, certification is no longer the issue.”

Boeing has 450 aircraft manufactured and waiting for delivery, with analysts expecting it to take 18 months or more before the inventory is cleared. But a substantial proportion of these “white tails” now no longer have a customer. 

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