EASA could mandate Boeing 737 MAX safety retrofits

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With legislators on both sides of Congress having differing opinions on whether Boeing must retrofit systems to get the 737 MAX-7 and MAX-10 certified, Europe’s aviation regulator appears to have made the decision to mandate the manufacturer to do so. 

While “Boeing has committed to make these upgrades available for retrofit,” stated Janet Northcote, the Head of Communications at the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). “The actual retrofit of the in-service fleet can be achieved by different means, including possibly mandatory action from the FAA or EASA,” she added.  

EASA’s statements were first reported by the Seattle Times.  

At the heart of the debate in the United States Congress is whether Boeing should be required to retrofit two safety systems on the 737 MAX-7 and MAX-10 to get the two types certified. With the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act (ACSAA) going into effect on January 1, 2023, the planemaker is running out of time to certify the aircraft. Even then, Boeing has already stated that the MAX-7 will not be certified in 2022, while the certification of the MAX-10 could be pushed back as far as early 2024.  

Different opinions on the 737 MAX

In Congress, legislators on both sides have presented different options on how to proceed further regarding the certification of the two yet-uncertified aircraft types.  

Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, put forward a draft proposal that would eliminate the December 31, 2022 deadline, which would switch the focus of the debate from a date to safety concerns.  

If passed, the law would require Boeing to retrofit an improved Angle of Attack (AoA) system, which would include a third sensor that would cross-check the data from two other AoA angles on the aircraft’s fuselage and an ability for pilots to switch off an inaccurately activated stick shaker. The shaker indicates that the aircraft is stalling and an erroneous activation, which startled the pilots on the two fatal flights, was deemed as one of the factors as to why Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines’ aircraft crashed.  

Senator Sam Graves, a Republican from Missouri, in turn, has told Reuters he will support an extension without mandating retrofits. Graves is expected to become the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in January 2023.  

Whether Canada, another major market for the 737 MAX will require the retrofits remains unclear. AeroTime has approached Transport Canada (TC), the local aviation safety regulator, for a comment. EASA, meanwhile, has recertified the 737 MAX-8 and MAX-9 with the condition that Boeing would eventually retrofit these safety improvements on all aircraft within the MAX family.  

“In parallel, and at our insistence, Boeing has also committed to work to enhance the aircraft still further in the medium term, in order to reach an even higher level of safety,” stated EASA’s Executive Director Patrick Ky when the European regulator ungrounded the aircraft in January 2021.  

WestJet, a Canada-based carrier, has ordered 42 Boeing 737 MAX-10 aircraft as recently as September 2022.  


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