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Delta chief eyes industry impact from 737 Max grounding

Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian says the investigation into the certification process and what brought down two Boeing 737 Max aircraft will “open a lot of questions” that could have broad implications for the airline industry.

“I think there will, no question, be lessons learned from this,” Bastian says of the Max aircraft grounding at the MRO Americas conference in Atlanta. “I hope it doesn’t set us back as an industry.”

When asked about scrutiny of flight control software on the 737 Max that has been linked to two fatal crashes since October, Bastian says the situation raises questions about product certification and the relationship between regulators and companies.

“I’m confident that Boeing will solve this issue,” he says. “I think we’ll all learn from it.”

Atlanta-based Delta does not operate the 737 Max but considered the aircraft in its 2017 narrowbody campaign that went to the competing Airbus A321neo.

Boeing Chairman Dennis Muilenburg, in a 5 April statement, ordered the company to “establish a committee to review our companywide policies and processes for the design and development of the airplanes".

The airframer is in the process of deploying an update for the manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) on the 737 Max, an update the US Federal Aviation Administration said at the beginning of April that it would begin reviewing in coming weeks.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is also investigating allegations that inadequate training of FAA safety inspectors caused the agency to improperly evaluate software on the 737 Max.

Boeing’s proposed mid-sized aircraft, known as the New Mid-market Airplane (NMA), could be “the perfect candidate” to replace Boeing aircraft that are scheduled to age out of the Delta fleet in a decade including the Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft, Bastian says. Delta operates 127 757s and 77 767s, according to Cirium’s Fleets Analyzer.

“We’ve talked with Boeing at some length about the NMA,” he says. “Clearly they’re distracted, obviously, with the issues that happened with the Max.”

Prior to the 737 Max grounding, Bastian was gung-ho for the airframer to launch the NMA, reiterating in early March Delta's strong interest in the type. Delta and Boeing have previously discussed the airline launching the programme.

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