US pilot unions say they are satisfied with the improvements to the Boeing 737 Max that led the Federal Aviation Administration to unground the aircraft and open a path for it to return to the airlines’ respective operating fleets.
The Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) says on 18 November that based on the airworthiness directive published by the FAA earlier in the day, it “believes that the engineering fixes to the flight-critical aircraft systems are sound and will be an effective component that leads to the safe return to service of the 737 Max”.
Earlier in the day, the FAA cleared the Boeing 737 Max to fly, a move coming 20 months after regulators grounded the jet following two crashes that killed 346 people. The agency rescinded its 13 March 2019 “Emergency Order of Prohibition” – the document barring US airlines from operating Boeing’s latest 737 iteration.
“While ALPA continues to review the specific enhanced flight crew training details contained in the Flight Standardization Board report, the months-long process, involvement, and collaboration by all segments of the industry has demonstrated an earnest commitment to the aircraft’s airworthiness and improved documentation and procedures,” the union says.
ALPA represents pilots at numerous airlines which operate the aircraft, including United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Canada’s WestJet.
Regulators in Canada have not yet green-lighted the jet but say they expect to do so “soon”.
Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson said on 18 November that while the Max’s issues have been addressed, ongoing pilot training and maintenance concerns still need attention. He said the FAA is “taking a fresh look at foundational aviation safety issues, such as pilot training”, he adds.
Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), writes in a note to the airline’s cockpit crew members that the union is “confident in the full process that got the Max back to the point of return” but points out that the regulators ignored several suggestions the union says would have improved safety.
“We are very disappointed that the comments we proposed regarding the memory items for the runaway stabilizer checklist…were not incorporated,” he says. “SWAPA also is dismayed that there is still strong disagreement between regulators regarding pulling a circuit breaker in the event of an erroneous stick shaker event. Most Max operators, with the exception of those in the United States, have developed a procedure for pulling a circuit breaker in just such an occurrence, thereby reducing distractions and flight deck confusion.”
Dallas-based Southwest, which operates an all-737 fleet, has 34 of the new generation jet in storage and 233 more orders with Boeing, according to Cirium fleets data.
SWAPA also criticized the airline for a round of layoffs it intends to make amongst its aircraft maintenance technicians and related employees.
“In a move that will surely harm the confidence of our passengers when we need them the most, Southwest intends to furlough mechanics on the same day they say they will need ‘a great deal of work to prepare the Max to fly’,” the union writes. “That is a hell of a marketing campaign.”
The Allied Pilots’ Association, which represents pilots at Fort Worth-based American Airlines, could not be reached for comment.
American currently has 24 jets in storage and another 76 on order. It plans to be the first to return the type to its schedule, on 29 December, for a round-trip between its Miami International airport hub and New York’s LaGuardia airport.