Boeing 737 MAX Cleared By European Regulators

Filed Under: Misc.

The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded globally since March 2019, following two fatal crashes. For the past 20 months Boeing has been making fixes to the plane and working on getting it certified once again.

Last week the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced plans to “unground” the 737 MAX, and today European regulators have made a similar announcement.

EASA signs off on Boeing 737 MAX

Back in mid-October, Patrick Ky, Executive Director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), stated that he was satisfied with the changes that Boeing has made to the 737 MAX. However, up until this point the EASA hasn’t officially ungrounded the 737 MAX. That’s going to change.

The EASA has today published a Proposed Airworthiness Directive for the 737 MAX returning to service. With this, a 28-day public consultation period has started, with the final Airworthiness Directive expected to be published in mid-January 2021.

As the Executive Director of the EASA describes this development:

“EASA made clear from the outset that we would conduct our own objective and independent assessment of the 737 MAX, working closely with the FAA and Boeing, to make sure that there can be no repeat of these tragic accidents, which touched the lives of so many people.

I am confident that we have left no stone unturned in our assessment of the aircraft with its changed design approach. Each time when it may have appeared that problems were resolved, we dug deeper and asked even more questions. The result was a thorough and comprehensive review of how this plane flies and what it is like for a pilot to fly the MAX, giving us the assurance that it is now safe to fly.”

The 737 MAX could be flying in Europe in January 2021

EASA mandates 737 MAX changes

The EASA’s Proposed Airworthiness Directive mandates several changes to the 737 MAX, including the following:

  • Software updates for the flight control computer, including the MCAS
  • Software updates to display an alert in case of disagreement between the two angle of attack sensors
  • Physical separation of wires routed from the cockpit to the stabilizer trim motor
  • Updates to flight manuals: operational limitations and improved procedures to equip pilots to understand and manage all relevant failure scenarios
  • Mandatory training for all 737 MAX pilots before they fly the plane again, and updates of the initial and recurrent training of pilots on the MAX
  • Tests of systems including the angle of attack sensor system
  • An operational readiness flight, without passengers, before commercial usage of each aircraft to ensure that all design changes have been correctly implemented and the aircraft successfully and safely brought out of its long period of storage

It’s interesting to note that even though the FAA and EASA worked fairly closely together and are going off the same information, the two organizations have mandated somewhat different changes.

Existing 737 MAXs will need software updates, and more

Support from foreign regulators is significant

The 737 MAX certification process and investigation has brought a lot of things to light, both regarding Boeing’s corporate culture, and also regarding its relationship with the FAA.

As the 737 MAX has undergone the certification process, one major question has been whether foreign regulators would follow the FAA’s lead.

It’s certainly a good sign for Boeing that approval is coming from both the FAA and EASA around the same time.

Ultimately it’s up to each individual aviation regulator to decide on their policy. Presumably they’re not all going to do test flights on the plane, so it’ll be interesting to see if there’s widespread support of FAA and EASA approval, or what ends up happening.

Will other regulators follow the lead of the FAA & EASA?

We’ll see how passengers respond

I’ll be very curious to see how the public responds to the 737 MAX returning to the skies:

  • So many people have said “I’ll never fly that plane,” but only time will tell if that’s just empty talk, or if people follow through on that; it could be like people who threaten to never fly an airline again, and then the next time when that airline is a dollar cheaper than the competitor, they book it
  • We’ve seen some airlines say they’ll let people rebook if they are scheduled to be on a 737 MAX, so I’m curious to see just how many airlines have a policy like this; perhaps it’s a moot point for now, as airlines are waiving change fees in general
  • Boeing is quietly rebranding the 737 MAX — for example, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is now being branded as the 737-8, so clearly Boeing is hoping that people forget the “MAX” name

Would I be comfortable flying the 737 MAX when it returns to service? Well:

  • Have I lost a lot of respect for both Boeing and the FAA throughout this process? Absolutely
  • But personally I’d be happy to fly the 737 MAX again once it’s approved by multiple reputable regulators

Ironically airlines might be just as unhappy as passengers about the 737 MAX being cleared to fly again, because they’ll be on the hook for paying for these planes, and won’t be getting compensation from Boeing anymore.

Will passengers really not fly the 737 MAX?

Bottom line

The EASA has issued a Proposed Air Worthiness Directive for the 737 MAX, and it’s expected that the plane could be flying in Europe again by mid-January. The EASA does have some requirements for the plane, which aren’t identical to the FAA’s requirements, interestingly enough.

With both the FAA and EASA being onboard with the 737 MAX returning to the skies soon, we’ll have to wait and see what other regulators around the world do. I would imagine that most regulators in smaller countries with follow the lead of the FAA and EASA, but what about the Civil Aviation Administration of China, for example, especially given the political implications?

Do you think other regulators will follow the lead of the FAA and EASA?

Comments
  1. I don’t think the plane will face serious resistance from passengers. It is no longer in the news, people are desperate to travel and most passengers wouldn’t be able to figure out what plane they are flying, unless they are told by the airline.

  2. I would imagine that part of the reason that the FAA has been slow to issue their approval has been a desire to have a foreign regulatory agency approve it first. The optics of this are simply much better than the FAA being first with the appearance of pressure being put on others.

  3. This is great news for Boeing! As for me flying on the 737-MAX, I’m waiting at least 2 years to see whether there are any other crashes. This plane had its first commercial flight in 2017 and was then grounded in early 2019 due to 2 crashes. I definitely do not want to be one of the guinea pigs and fly this plane during its first months back in commercial aviation…. regardless of what the FAA or EASA says about its safety.

  4. I won’t be booking myself onto the first flight. When it’s been flying for a year without incident, I’ll be more relaxed about it.

  5. MAX’s will probably the safest passenger plane in the world once all the major int’l agencies give it the green light to restart service

  6. Given the scrutiny, the redundant fixes, the training and what is at stake, this plane has probably become the safest aircraft to fly on. My own reluctance to use it, at least on AA, remains the ridiculous “Oasis” interiors and density, the lack of IFE and the size of the toilets.

  7. @Pierre has a great point that most people overlook due to the 2 crashes…”Lipstick on a pig” comes to mind with regards to this aircraft comfort/size wise…I avoid the 737-900ER as much as possible as is…Of course that can be difficult being a UA flyer, but I try…I feel I will be doing the same with these out of an abundance of caution as well as the OLD CRAMPED 737 interior…

  8. I will try to avoid the MAX for a couple of years, but I don’t think they flying public will care that much.

  9. Count me in as one who will continue to avoid it, not because it’s a MAX, but because it’s a 737. There’s only so much lipstick you can slap on the pig. I realize 737s are nearly impossible to avoid, especially in the domestic US market, but give a choice between a 737 or alternative families like the A320, A220, or 757, I’m going to pick the latter every single time.

  10. I made sure to seek these out on Southwest before the crashes and i loved them, fly the max 3 times and every time passengers came on board they were pleasantly surprised with the space, the colors, the windows, and the massive overhead space. Passengers loved this plane (obviously before the news of the 2 crashes) but Southwest never had an issue with them (probably because they have real pilots) and wanted them back in service asap.

  11. Presumably each plane needs a software update, and the FAA (and maybe the Euros) were also going to require some rebundling/rerouting of control wires running through the tail that could cause a short in the stabilizer controls.

    So, long story short, you’re not going to be flying a MAX anytime soon. I’d guess that maybe the earliest ones might start flying late Summer 2020. I’d guess Southwest won’t hesitate to put them back in service as soon as they’re available.

  12. I’m booked on a United MCO – IAD flight in November, and when I booked it, it showed as a 737-8 MAX. When I checked this week, it had been changed back to a 737-800. I don’t know why United loaded the MAX in their inventory and then withdrew it.

  13. There will be exactly zero resistance from passengers. They do not care. All they want is $29 flights to Orlando.

    However, the mobs of self-appointed keyboard warrior aviation safety experts will howl at the moon endlessly over their outrage. They’re utterly ignorant about anything involving aviation technology beyond what kind of bowl the nuts are served in up in business class, but that won’t stop them from denouncing whatever is done.

  14. @steve cc
    What a ” patronising remark ” Southwest never had any issues with them (probably because they have real pilots)” What are you implying?That any airline that has a crash doesn’t have real pilots?

  15. The design of the aircraft is fundamentally flawed and pilots will require retraining to deal with an aircraft whose aerodynamic characteristics don’t favor balanced flight.

    It is profoundly unsafe to continue to try and tinker with this design by compensating through software. It isn’t a software problem, it’s a design problem.

    My answer is no.

  16. As it’s clear that this winter will probably result in the kind of passenger numbers we say in May & June (90% lower than same time last year), I don’t think the max planes will really even be in the fleet of most airliners. The fact is that the 737 max is already obsolete for the next 6 months because it’s too high density. Unless airliners are planning on using these planes to conduct transatlantic flights because it’s clearly lower density than a wide body & the passenger numbers will be extremely low, then there’s no real usage for this aircraft in Europe & North America & most likely not even in Asia

  17. These only belong in the world in places where they can be turned into restaurants. Only use of them-period.

  18. I just wont fly it. I know it doesnt matter as 95% of passengers have no clue what they are flying on and if they knew wouldnt care, but still…

  19. I think the general public doesn’t understand the extent to which the MAX crashes could have been avoided by more competent pilots.

    There’s a channel on YouTube, MentourPilot – he’s a 737 captain – he explains that all you would’ve had to do to prevent the MCAS-induced stall would be to follow the procedure for a runaway trim emergency. That procedure literally is to flip one switch to disable the auto-trim system, which is a superset of / contains the MCAS functionality.

    Auto-trim has existed since the 737NG; MCAS was just added to it in the 737MAX. Should Boeing have never allowed this issue to exist in the first place? Definitely. Should they have updated training manuals to inform pilots about this new system? Absolutely. Could a pilot that actually had The Right Stuff ™ solved the emergency in two seconds? Yes.

    I’ll be flying them the day they return to service.

  20. @Luke
    So what you are saying is that Black and Brown pilots (on Ethiopian and Lion respectively) are not “competent pilots”. Shame on you Sir.

  21. It’s the usual set up. The approval came from Europe first to convince the US public and others that its certified by an “outsider” first. Watch the news media spin it, and say its a “significant” development, since the FAA lost all credibility. Not buying this for a minute.

    I will not be boarding one of these.

  22. Been in the transportation industry for years!!!! I will say this: when the DC-10 experienced all those crashes, people threatened to not fly them. And some held true to that. But the vast majority of people hopped right back on them when they were cleared to fly again. The only difference between then and now is 1) the news is literally in your pocket and thrown in your face, whereas it wasn’t like that back in the 70s and 80s. And articles like this could only be read in newspapers. So you weren’t constantly reminded of the failings of McDonnell Douglas. 2) the 737MAX was grounded way longer than any other aircraft type in history. Even with the cancelations (which I attribute more to airlines looking to shed off excess orders due to low demand because of coronavirus rather than a bad reputation), the MAX still has a relatively healthy order book. And I suspect we will start to see more orders come in a very short time once the grounding is lifted worldwide. The general public often couldn’t tell you if they were on a Boeing jet or an Airbus, let alone which model it is. Boeing seems to understand that the MAX name has been tarnished and, like the article said, is quietly ditching the name.

    As for me? I flew on this aircraft at least 30 times before it was grounded. I will have no problem boarding another one once they’re cleared to fly. Neither will millions of others.

    Just my 2¢.

  23. @Tesfa It has nothing to do with “black and brown pilots.” It has to do with the fact that both Lion Air and Ethiopian had demonstrably bad pilot training programs. It really isn’t that hard to do a little reading/research into what happened. Although I admit that it’s more difficult than just spouting off racism accusations.

  24. Well, I think with the ultra slim schedules because of the pandemic pax will have to accept whatever plane is taking them there … In particular flying international, you are often down to one flight every other day. If you don’t take this one because of aircraft preferences, you will have to walk (or swim) …

  25. @GlobeTrotter “people are desperate to travel”

    Really? Do tell…No one is desperate to travel through virus-infested airport terminal only to get squeezed inside an uncomfortable metal tube for hours with hundreds of strangers carrying whatever god-awful disease.

    Funniest comment ever. Desperate to travel. /s

  26. @Andy, it seems to me that the pandemic has shown that people *won’t* fly if their choice is between flying unsafely and not flying at all.

  27. I will not fly a 737MAX until it has had a two-year record of safe flying. I suppose I could be convinced to shorten that to one year. But I absolutely won’t be getting on one before that. It seems to me that the engine redesign as created fundamental stability of flight issues.

    All those people arguing that the flying public is ignorant of aircraft types are forgetting that this is the age of social media. The flaws of the 737MAX are infamous in a way that those of no other aircraft (save perhaps the Concorde in 2000) have ever been before — not the Comet, not the DC10.

    Finally, the attempts to blame pilots for what is demonstrably a flaw in design and software are shameful. I agree there may be some racism at work.

  28. I will totally avoid it for at least the first year back in service. But will continue to avoid it whenever possible because of the cramped interior. I have flown on it once on AC from LAX-YYZ, the seat and the lav were small.

  29. I will definitely be flying Max. After 18 months of work it will be as safe as any other safe plane.
    I too wonder why US did not have crashes that others had.

  30. The US and Europe have real pilots. If you fly a budget airline from a bottom tier GDP nation then you are at risk regardless of what plane you fly. There have been plenty of a320 and regular 737 crashes from these airlines to go along with a ton of turboprop and smaller plane crashes. After flying a MAX on southwest airlines it was very hard to go back to a regular older 737. I will seek these out on SW everytime i can, as for american i will pass because project oasis is trash but i fully trust AA. Lion Air that has a crash every year, no thanks not on any plane.

  31. I have no problem flying on this plane. I will avoid it on AA due to their “Oasis” configuration.

    I wish they still had the Mad Dogs. I loved that plane. For that matter I miss Northwest’s DC-9s even more. Any plane that has been flying around for 30 years has pretty much experienced everything that’s going to be thrown at it. Take the wings off of it and you could use it as a tank!

  32. The title of this article is misleading. EASA has NOT cleared the 737MAX to fly again. It has issued a proposal to do so which has requirements different from the FAA and now has a 30 day comment period. Only then will EASA issue a qualified clearance just as the FAA has. EASA has already indicated its requirements will be different from those of the FAA

  33. A plane that requires software to overcome its engines being in the wrong place gets a fix to that piece of software… and its engines are still in the same place as before. As a face saving exercise, I would have liked it to be recertified but not permitted to use the CFM LEAP (or equivalent) engines. Wouldn’t have made it economically viable but would have spared a few blushes amongst the many parties involved.

    At least Boeing won’t make the same mistake in future surely and will engineer new airframes to take a new generation of engines. There’s going to be a lot of crossed fingers for the next few years of MAX (or whatever it ends up being called) operations.

  34. @Luke – if it was simple pilot incompetence then what was the last year and a half about? All they would have to do is say is next time anyone gets into this situation, throw this switch. Clearly this was a much bigger issue, concern being noted by US pilots too. A lot of people needlessly lost their lives over more than a simple switch and procedure. Show a little more respect.

  35. I think most passengers don’t even know what aircraft they fly. So I think a discreet change like eliminating the max, will do the trick.

  36. One of the major issues was the size of the engine and after a long grounding the engine size is the same….so they decided to fix a hardware problems with software. IMHO I will avoid it for at leat 2 years.

  37. I don’t think you will see anyone avoid it in practice.

    Your flight on a soldout date or a flight with an international connection has been changed to a 737-MAX. Your choice is to (a) fly the MAX, (b) not fly and hope for a seat on a later flight, (c) not go on your trip. What would most people do? My guess is they complain, complain and complain, then when the gate agents says pick a/b/c, they pick (a) and fly the MAX.

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