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
- 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?
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?