Boeing 737 MAX return question caught in FAA reputation crisis
As Boeing nears the end of the 737 MAX software update, the question remains whether aviation authorities will follow the FAA’s example in clearing the aircraft to fly again ‒ as it is a custom in the industry. The discussions and speculation on the topic has intensified in the last week, as global authorities gathered to the ICAO tri-annual assembly session on September 24, 2019. While media reports indicate that regulators authorities are starting to lean towards the customary method and might un-ground the aircraft if not at the same time as their U.S. counterpart, then shortly after, the FAA’s reputation faced another blow. And this time, the hit came from the home base.
When will the 737 MAX re-enter into service?
The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has no timeline on when Boeing 737 MAX might be deemed safe to fly again, according to a statement by the U.S. authority. FAA representatives met with aviation regulators to discuss the Boeing 737 MAX situation on September 23, 2019, ahead of the beginning of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Assembly 40th session.
During the meeting, FAA administrator Steve Dickson affirmed that the U.S. authority would continue sharing information about its activities regarding the 737 MAX recertification with other regulators around the world and would “welcome feedback” from other civil aviation authorities.
FAA appears to be coming to terms that global authorities might not follow FAA’s lead in deciding on when 737 MAX could return to service. “As you make your own decisions about returning the MAX to service, we will continue to make available to you all that we have learned, all that we have done, and all of our assistance,” Dickson told the authorities.
However, another U.S. body, the Department of Transportation (DoT), appears to be of a different opinion. On September 25, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao told ICAO members that “international coordination is important in all aspects” of clearing the 737 MAX to return to service. “The traveling public will not be well served if there are conflicting signals given by different regulatory authorities around the world,” said Chao.
Alexandre De Juniac, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) CEO, also expressed similar expectations. De Juniac told Bloomberg on September 25, 2019 that they expect the FAA and other organizations to align their schedules and conditions under which the 737 MAX would return to service.
“It is absolutely key to restore the confidence of everybody in this aircraft,” said De Juniac, adding that “strict” alignment of agenda and conditions are “necessary” for the industry to have solid and trustful aircraft certification system. Otherwise, regulators’ disagreements would have a “bad influence” on 737 MAX reentry into service. The disagreement or differences of opinion would “not restore confidence in the system and in the aircraft,” said IATA CEO. “So we urge the regulators to have the common approach”.
New stains for FAA’s reputation?
The speculation on whether or not global aviation authorities will follow the FAA’s lead on recertifying the Boeing 737 MAX comes at a time when the U.S. authority’s ability to property supervise aviation safety is being questioned. Back in March 2019, both the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Transport Canada (the Canadian transport safety authority) announced they would run their own independent reviews of the 737 MAX software after the update is completed.
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