Regulatory officials are optimistic that safety authorities in Europe and other regions are confident in the US Federal Aviation Administration’s safety review process to return Boeing 737 Max aircraft to service.
Regulators outside the USA have vowed they will not rely on FAA approval and conduct their own reviews as they determine when to return Max aircraft to service, including the European Aviation Safety Agency, which is still coordinating with FAA during the process.
The FAA’s executive director of international affairs Chris Rocheleau tells Cirium that the multinational Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) is “reassured” that the agency is conducting a thorough safety review. The JATR, commissioned by the agency to review the initial certification process of Max aircraft, includes aviation authorities from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and representatives from the FAA and NASA.
Boeing on 21 January states “we are currently estimating that the ungrounding of the 737 Max will begin during mid-2020.” The FAA has never set a timetable on when it would complete the safety review on the grounded aircraft, but the industry had informally expected the process would be completed by April.
The Max crashes occurred in Ethiopia and Indonesia, which is one reason the “political dimensions are difficult to analyze” when considering how different countries could approach the FAA’s safety review, says Gilberto Lopez Meyer, IATA’s senior vice president of safety and flight operations.
The reception could differ for regulators in each country, but Meyer tells Cirium “the technical people are very well-aligned.”
“In the end, I expect there will be minor differences” by regulators in different countries compared with the FAA review once it is complete, he says.
Meyer has advocated for nations to coordinate on validation requirements when the FAA completes its safety review and the return-to-service process begins for Max aircraft.
Scrutiny of the FAA’s safety review follows concerns about whether the agency and Boeing during the initial certification process adequately studied how pilots might respond to the automated flight control software created for Max aircraft that has been linked with two fatal crashes.
The JATR team in October put forward 12 recommendations to improve on FAA safety certification following the Max crashes. These included a call to boost oversight of a controversial process that delegates engineering data approvals to companies during certification called the Organisation Designation Authorisation.
A committee established by the US Department of Transportation, however, published a report on 16 January supporting that delegation process and stating that Boeing properly followed FAA processes when approving the 737 Max. Speaking during a discussion on 21 January hosted by the International Aviation Club of Washington DC, the committee’s co-chair Lee Moak, a former president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said there was room for improvement but defended the need for the FAA’s delegation process.
“The safety record speaks for itself,” Moak said during the event, crediting the delegation process with contributing to a decline in aviation deaths since 1996.