The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects to approve Boeing Co’s 737 MAX jet to return to service as soon as late next month, representatives of the regulator told members of the UN’s aviation agency in a private briefing on Thursday, sources told reporteres.
The target, if achieved, means US airlines would likely not have to greatly extend costly cancelations of 737 MAX jets they have already put in place for the peak summer flying season, but the FAA representatives warned that there was no firm timetable to get the airplanes back in the air.
American Airlines Group Inc, Southwest Airlines Co and United Airlines Inc suspended 737 MAX flights into July and August after the FAA grounded Boeing’s best-selling jet in March following two crashes in five months that killed a total of 346 people.
Photo: Reuters / American Airlines / handout
FAA and Boeing officials on Thursday privately briefed members of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s governing council in Montreal on the 737 MAX, the same day that FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell met with international air regulators for eight hours in Fort Worth.
Laying out a potential schedule for getting the 737 MAX back in the air in the US goes further than the FAA’s public statements so far.
Elwell declined to answer questions about the private briefing.
“The last thing I want is to put a date out there and then to have anybody, either the FAA, or you or the public drive to the date instead of the end result or the process,” he told reporters at a briefing with reporters after the Fort Worth meeting, which he called “constructive.”
He repeated previous statements that the FAA would not approve the airplane for flight until it has completed a safety analysis, with no set timetable.
The path to getting the 737 MAX back in the air outside the US remains even more uncertain.
Canada and Europe on Wednesday said that they would bring back the grounded aircraft on their own terms, not the FAA’s.
Shares of Boeing, the world’s largest planemaker, on Thursday pared earlier losses to close down 0.6 percent at US$350.55. The stock has fallen about 17 percent since the second crash, of an Ethiopian Airlines jet in March, wiping about US$40 billion off its market value.
The FAA has said that it would not reverse its decision to ground the airplane until it sees the findings of a multiagency review of Boeing’s plan to fix software on the 737 MAX, which the planemaker has described as a common link in the two crashes.
Boeing last week said that it had completed an update to the software, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, which would stop erroneous data from triggering an anti-stall system that automatically turned down the noses of the two airplanes that crashed, despite pilot efforts to prevent it from doing so.
Boeing has yet to formally submit the fix to the FAA and has not set a date to do so.
“Once we have addressed the information requests from the FAA, we will be ready to schedule a certification test flight and submit final certification documentation,” Boeing communications director Chaz Bickers said on Thursday.
Even after the FAA lifts its ban on 737 MAX flights, airlines would have to spend about 100 and 150 hours getting each aircraft ready to fly again after being put in storage, plus time for training pilots on the new software, officials from the three US airlines that operate the 737 MAX told reporters.
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