Boeing 737 Max planes could return to the air by the end of August, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) indicated, expressing confidence that the software update Boeing has completed will overcome the problems that led to the deadly 737 Max crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Although Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell says the agency has no specific timeline for re-certifying the Boeing 737 Max, which have been grounded in the U.S. since March 13, he has told three major U.S. airlines there is no need for them to extend their canceled flights past August.
American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have canceled all their 737 Max flights through August. United Airlines so far has canceled its 737 Max flights through July.
Boeing last week said it had completed the software update that makes its MCAS anti-stall system more reliable and less aggressive. Once the manufacturer submits the changes to the FAA, the agency will begin its review. Mr. Elwell said he expects the FAA’s review of the updates to take three or four weeks, according to the Seattle Times.
The FAA held a meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, at the end of May with aviation authorities from more than 30 nations to discuss returning the 737 Max jets to the air. The airlines will install the software update and provide additional training to pilots after the FAA certifies the changes.
“It definitely could be a month, two months,” Mr. Elwell told CNBC about the FAA’s certification process. “It’s all determined by what we find in our analysis of (Boeing’s) application, and we’re pretty confident that the application is in good shape.”
Mr. Elwell’s comments indicating a potentially shorter period before the 737 Max returns to the air contrasted with statements he made before the May 23 meeting in Fort Worth. On May 22, Mr. Elwell said the FAA’s approval “takes as long as it takes” and that the plane “will fly again when we have gone through all of the necessary analysis to determine that it is safe to do so.”
“If it takes a year to find everything we need to give us confidence to lift the order, then so be it,” he added. “I’m not tied to a timeline.”
The FAA’s reputation as the world’s leading aviation authority has suffered after it reluctantly grounded the planes following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 on March 10, which killed 157 people. The crash occurred just five months after the crash of Lion Air flight 610 in Indonesia, which killed 189.
The deadly crashes have also drawn attention to the FAA’s effectiveness as a regulatory authority and the measures it takes (or doesn’t take) to certify new airplane models as airworthy.
“The brand of the FAA has certainly been impacted by this,” United Airlines President Scott Kirby said at the Skift Forum Asia conference in Singapore last week.
According to Eturbonews. Paul Hudson, of FlyersRights.org and a long-standing member of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC), said the “FAA’s safety reputation is in tatters.” He added that the agency’s safety officials are “facing multiple investigations for improper certification of the 737 MAX” and other safety-related issues, including “long delays and defaults in safety rulemaking (and) lax enforcement of existing safety regulations …”
It’s also unlikely that Boeing can restore the public’s confidence in the safety of the 737 Max with a software fix and strong reassurances.
Convincing passengers the aircraft are safe to fly “will be one of the aviation industry’s toughest consumer-relations challenges in decades,” experts told the Wall Street Journal.
The American Journal of Transportation/Air Cargo News writes that “there’s little precedent for the tangle of safety, regulatory and financial issues buffeting a workhorse jet that’s vital to sustaining the surge in global air travel. After two crashes of the aircraft model in five months and a grounding that’s nearing the two-month mark, some nervous passengers are vowing to avoid the Max. Boeing has added to the mess by not fully explaining the apparent flaws in the best-selling jet in company history.
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in the firm’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section, focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. He has represented people seriously injured in aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. Mike will represent the family of Ethiopian Airlines crash victims, and is investigating both deadly Boeing crashes on behalf of families. He also has written a book on the subject to assist other aviation lawyers, “Aviation Litigation & Accident Investigation.” The book offers an overview to the practitioner about the complexities of aviation crash investigation and litigation.