Boeing 737 MAX safe to fly according to European aviation regulator
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it was satisfied that the changes made to Boeing’s 737 MAX made the aircraft safe enough to return to the skies of the European region by 2020, even though further updates that demanded by the agency, will not be ready for a couple of years.
Following test flights in September, EASA is conducting a final document review ahead of the draft airworthiness directive it plans to issue next month, said Patrick Kai (Patrick Ky), Executive Director of the European Union Aviation Security Agency.
This will be followed by four weeks of public comment, he said, and it will take 20 to 24 months to develop a so-called synthetic sensor to increase redundancy. The software solution will be required on the larger MAX 10 variant before its 2022 debut and will be installed on other versions.
«Our analysis shows that it is safe, and the achieved level of security is high enough for us.», – said Kai in an interview. «We discussed with Boeing that we can achieve an even higher level of safety with a third sensor.».
These comments mark a strong endorsement by a major regulator of Boeing’s goal of returning its air flagship back into service by the end of the year after numerous delays and setbacks. MAX, the latest version of the narrow-body 737, was halted in March 2019 in two accidents that claimed 346 lives, leading to a crisis that cost Boeing billions of dollars and its jobs to the then CEO. Dennis Muehlenburg (Dennis Muilenburg).
While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Boeing’s main certification body, continues to review the 737 MAX, it is holding back on timing. FAA head Steve Dixon (Steve Dickson) piloted Max late last month and said he was «very comfortable», but the testing process is still not finished.
Boeing shares rose 4.4% premarket. This year, the company’s shares have lost almost half of their value..
EASA’s views also carry too much weight in light of the flaws in the original certification process that undermined the once-impeccable reputation of the US regulator..
Kai said the synthetic sensor will make it easier for pilots in the event one or both of the mechanical angle of attack sensors on the 737 MAX fail. A device that monitors whether the plane is pointing up or down in relation to the incoming air failed in both accidents – the first off the coast of Indonesia in October 2018 and the second, five months later, in Ethiopia.
«We believe that overall this is a good development that will increase the level of safety.», – said Kai. «It is currently unavailable and will be available at the same time as MAX 10 certification».
The Boeing 737 MAX case shattered the understanding between the FAA and global aviation authorities, including EASA, who acted faster to land the model aircraft, and then put forward demands beyond US requirements to ensure its return. Kai said the relationship between the European agency and its American partner needs to be restructured to improve security, but not slow progress..
The FAA’s relationship with Boeing also changed after the aircraft manufacturer was accused of hiding changes that increased the differences between the Max and earlier 737s to keep costs down and minimize training requirements..
Another question mark for the MAX is China, where demand for aircraft surged ahead of the coronavirus pandemic this year. China has participated in some inspections of the aircraft, but did not participate in flight tests, which involved Canadian and Brazilian regulators, as well as the FAA and EASA, Kai said..
While Kai’s statements are positive for Boeing and suppliers like Safran SA and Spririt AeroSysems Holdings Inc. «still a gigantic task», – said Jeremy Bragg (Jeremy Bragg), Redburn Analyst.
In addition to returning the aircraft to service, Boeing also has to examine about 450 of its 737 MAX aircraft that have been built but are awaiting delivery to customers, he said.. «This should be achieved against a backdrop of very weak underlying demand due to Covid-19, which will almost inevitably lead to very low prices for Max over the next few years.».
As the 737 MAX story draws to a close, EASA is working with other regulators to apply the lessons learned for future certifications. One area is related to the evaluation of derived models such as MAX, which install modern technologies on older platforms. The challenge, he says, is to find the right balance and make sure that the pilots have the knowledge they need to fly the planes safely..
One of the future options is the Boeing 777X, the next version of its 25-year-old wide-body aircraft with folding wings. Like many Boeing aircraft, it has two angle of attack sensors (Airbus aircraft have three or more). Discussing Max, Kai said the big issue when one of the two AOA sensors fails is its impact on aircraft safety..
While the 777X lacks the agility enhancement system that played a role in the 737 MAX crashes, Kai said EASA will take a close look at the new 777X’s flight control systems and analyze any potential points of failure as part of its review..
As for whether it will slow down the process for approval European regulator of a wide range of companies: «This largely depends on whether Boeing can provide us with the right solutions and the right risk assessment analysis.», – he said. «There may be other problems as well; we are indeed studying this new aircraft and making sure that our and Boeing safety assessments are properly conducted and do not leave any questions unanswered».