The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), throughout the recent history of commercial aviation, has been the global leader for aviation safety and, in the same vein, certification. Whenever a decision was made by the FAA, the world would follow suit. However, could the fallout from the 737 MAX crisis result in the FAA losing its status as a global leader of aviation authorities around the globe?

Historically, the FAA held the flag and was the leader on all fronts. When the DC-10 was grounded, for example, the U.S.-based authority was at the forefront of the decision. So in the lead that airlines based in Europe sued the FAA for allegedly overstepping its boundaries when the agency banned foreign-registered DC-10s to operate within the United States’ airspace.

Nevertheless, after the administration had grounded the tri-jet, “a number of foreign governments halted DC-10 flights in their airspace,” reported the New York Times in September 1981.

A more recent example could be the Boeing 787 Dreamliner groundings. After the 787 suffered several incidents involving its Auxiliary Power Unit’s (APU) lithium-ion batteries, the FAA grounded the wide-body on January 16, 2013. A day later, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a statement, whereupon the agency commented that it was working closely with the FAA as “the primary certification authority and Boeing.”

“EASA has this morning adopted the FAA Airworthiness Directive in order to ensure the continuing airworthiness of the European fleet,” the statement read. At the time, the European fleet consisted of two Boeing 787 Dreamliners operated by LOT Polish Airlines.

The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) followed the FAA as well, as the bureau “issued the airworthiness directive (Koku-ko-ki No. 92) based on the above mentioned FAA AD,” which ordered the groundings of the Dreamliner. Coincidentally, the two battery fires that prompted the suspension of operations of the 787 had been on Japanese-registered aircraft, belonging to Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA).

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The Boeing 787 Dreamliner could be hailed as a very polarizing aircraft. The wide-body showcased astonishing feats of human engineering, yet at the same time showcased how problematic a program could become.
 

Reverse of roles with the Boeing 737 MAX

The second fatal crash of the 737 MAX seemingly created a rift between aviation authorities worldwide. On Sunday, March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines’ MAX plunged into the ground shortly after departure. On Monday, March 11, 2019, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) ordered all Chinese airlines to suspend all commercial operations with the 737 MAX.

“Given the similarities between the two accidents that the aircraft involved in both crashes were newly delivered Boeing 737-8 and both happened during take-off, CAAC issued a notice at 9 am on March 11 requiring domestic airlines to suspend the commercial operations of Boeing 737-8 aircraft by 6 pm.”

The next day, EASA followed suit:

“EASA issued a Safety Directive 2019-01 suspending commercial air transport operations with Boeing 737-8 MAX and Boeing 737-9 MAX by third country operators into, within or out of the territory subject to the provisions of the Treaty on European Union.”

The FAA was one of the last agencies to react. On March 13, 2019, the authority ordered a temporary grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, “as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today,” read a statement by the FAA.