The Federal Aviation Administration is close to issuing a proposed order for lifting the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max, a milestone that will kick off a 45-day public-comment period.

The proposed airworthiness directive (AD) will outline aircraft-design changes and new pilot procedures that would permit airlines to resume flying the Max, the agency says.

Southwest Airlines' Boeing 737 Max, on the ground. Regulators grounded the type in March 2019.

Source: Etienne Laurent / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 737 Max. Regulators grounded the type in March 2019.

Once finalised, the AD would mark the end of the Max’s grounding, which took effect in March 2019.

“In the near future, the FAA plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for an Airworthiness Directive affecting the Boeing 737 Max,” the FAA says on 21 July.

The FAA does not say exactly when it will publish the proposal, or when it might become final.

But if issued this week, the proposal’s 45-day public comment period would end at the beginning of September, at which point the FAA could make the proposal final.

That timeframe aligns with Boeing’s public assertion that it believes the FAA will certificate the troubled 737 Max in time to allow for deliveries to resume in the third quarter of the year.

Boeing did not immediately respond to a request to comment about the FAA’s pending proposal.

Specifics of the proposal remain unknown, but the document will review “proposed design changes and crew procedures to mitigate the safety issues identified during the investigations that followed the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents,” says the agency.

Those crashes killed 346 people.

The agency insists it is following a “deliberate process and will take the time it needs to thoroughly review Boeing’s work”.

“We will lift the grounding order only after FAA safety experts are satisfied that the aircraft meets certification standards,” it adds.

The FAA calls its posting of the proposed rule “an important milestone”, but notes several other steps remain prior to the Max returning to flight.

Those include review of updated pilot procedures by the FAA’s Joint Operations Evaluation Board (composed of representatives from the FAA and other countries’ regulatory agencies) and by the FAA’s Flight Standardization Board.

The Standardization Board will ultimately make the updated pilot procedures available for public comment before making them final.

Additionally, the FAA and a Technical Advisory Board (composed of representatives from various agencies) will review Boeing’s “final design documentation” related to updates to the Max.

That board will “evaluate compliance with all FAA regulations”, and the FAA will ultimately decide whether to approve the design changes.

FAA Max flight tests_1July

Source: Federal Aviation Administration

FAA and Boeing engineers during a flight test of the 737 Max on 1 July 2020

Prior to completing the jet’s certification, the FAA will issue a “Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community” That document, known as a “CANIC”, will notify the world of a pending AD.

The FAA will then issue the directive, which will outline actions operators must take before returning the Max to service.

“This marks the official un-grounding of the aircraft, pending completion by operations of the work specified in the AD, along with required training,” the FAA says.

The agency will also continue to issue the airworthiness certificates that clear individual 737 Max to fly. Boeing had previously issued those certificates.

“The FAA will perform in-person, individual reviews of these aircraft,” the agency says. It will also review and approve airlines’ pilot training programmes.

Story updated on 21 July to include the below comment from Boeing.

”Boeing is working closely with the FAA and other international regulators to meet their expectations as we work to safely return the 737 Max to service,” the airframer says. “Safety is our priority and the schedule for return to service will be determined by the regulators.”