The head of the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that the grounded Boeing 737 Max won’t be cleared to fly again until sometime next year.
In doing so, Administrator Stephen Dickson dashed Boeing’s hopes to get the troubled jetliner which figured in two crashes recertified this month.
Dickson, who took over the FAA four months ago, sidestepped naming a specific target date in his prepared remarks ahead of an appearance Wednesday before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. But he made it clear the process will stretch into next year in an early interview with CNBC.
Given the daunting list of items still needed to get the 737 Max back in the air, the delay may come as no surprise.
“The process is not guided by a calendar or schedule,” Dickson said in his prepared remarks. “Safety is the driving consideration.”
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The 737 Max won’t be back in service again until the FAA determines a proposed software fix and pilot retraining program are adequate, he said. The flight system changes will have to be certified in a test flight. A Joint Operations Evaluation Board, which includes members from Canada, Europe and Brazil, needs to sign off on revised training.
Documents must be reviewed by both the FAA and a Technical Advisory Board, comprised of members from several agencies. The FAA will need to issue a new airworthiness notification and publish a directive listing all the changes.
The FAA is still evaluating outside reports on the 737 Max, awaiting an independent committee’s review of the proposed changes and is expecting a report from a special committee under the auspices of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
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As one of the final steps, Dickson, a former Air Force and commercial airline pilot, vows to fly the 737 Max himself.
He insists on being “satisfied that I would put my own family on it without a second thought,” he wrote in his statement.
The approach reflects the controversy that has followed the jet in the wake of crashes of a Lion Air jet last year and an Ethiopian Airlines flight in March. Together, they claimed 346 lives.
The crashes and subsequent grounding of the jetliner plunged Boeing into crisis. It has tried to come up with revisions, most of them focusing on a software fix. The change would center on modifying the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, the system designed to make the jet feel last past generations of 737s despite larger engines repositioned on the wing.
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MCAS has been blamed for pushing the plane’s nose down repeatedly as pilots fought to keep it in the air on both the Lion Air and Ethiopian flights.
Dickson, like Boeing, said there is no strict timetable when it comes to the 737 Max.
Unlike during the 737 Max’s development, none of the inspection tasks are being delegated to Boeing. The FAA remains open minded on improvements.
“We will implement any changes that would improve our certification activities and increase safety,” Dickson wrote.