The Boeing 737 MAX will have to wait before taking off. The world's civil aviation authorities, meeting Thursday (May 23rd) in Texas, broke up after eight hours of undeclared talks with Boeing's flagship plane, grounded since March 13th. "The only schedule is to make sure the plane is safe before flying," Dan Elwell, acting chief of the US Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), told a news conference.
This uncertainty reflects the distrust of the other regulators towards the FAA, to which they asked "many questions" and of which they wanted "clarifications" on the procedures. Mr. Elwell indirectly acknowledged the lack of consensus by stating that "each country will make its own decision", independently, even if the "dialogue" will continue, including through exchanges of information. "If they could lift the ban shortly after us, I think it would be good for the public's trust," he said.
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A reciprocity system prevailed until the 737 MAX setbacks, under which the air regulators of other countries aligned themselves with the assessment of the originator, in this case the FAA. Dan Elwell had thrown a cold Wednesday, May 22, revealing that Boeing had not submitted for evaluation the update of the MCAS anti-stall system, because of additional questions. It is the dysfunction of this device, implicated in the Ethiopian Airlines accidents on March 10 (157 dead) and Lion Air on October 29 in Indonesia (189 dead), which resulted in the temporary ban on theft of the plane. 737 MAX, the latest addition to the American manufacturer. The aircraft manufacturer had said last week that the patch was ready for certification.
" Several months "
"It takes a lot more time than expected, maybe they want to make sure they do it right," said Richard Aboulafia, an expert at Teal Group. "There are a lot of things at stake, including the first impression of global regulators" looking at the fix. For Michel Merluzeau, "we are moving towards a return to service that may spread over time". According to this expert at Air Insight Research, one can imagine a lifting of the ban in the United States by the end of the summer and in "several months" elsewhere.
The US airlines operating the 737 MAX – American Airlines, Southwest and United Airlines – were hoping to put the plane back into their flight programs by mid-August at the latest. Boeing's latest delay is due to the fact that the FAA – which is trying to show its independence from the US giant – has put new questions to the builder, Elwell said. "Once we have responded to FAA inquiries, we will be ready for the certification flight and submit final documentation for certification," Boeing said by email.
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Once this documentation is submitted to the regulator, Boeing will have to go through other steps: the FAA will, for example, conduct a flight test and a thorough analysis to test the safety of the aircraft. The three airlines, which met in Miami, Florida last week, estimate that it will take between 100 and 150 hours of maintenance – including engine checks – to prepare their 737 MAX once the ban on theft, said an American Airlines spokesman to AFP. In addition, the FAA has still not determined what the appropriate training for pilots would be.
The United States and a large number of countries disagree on this point: the former believe that computer or iPad training is sufficient for experienced pilots, when Canada wants to make it mandatory for pilots to fly. The European Union, Canada or Brazil have already indicated that they will make their own assessment of the MCAS patch. The position of China, the first country to have grounded the 737 MAX, remains an unknown in full upsurge of trade tensions between Beijing and Washington.
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Need for transparency
Nearly sixty representatives from 33 countries flying the 737 MAX took part in the closed meeting in Texas. The return of confidence will be long, surveys conducted by Southwest show that a large number of passengers are not ready to board immediately a 737 MAX. And the pilots do not seem willing to sign a blank check to the authorities and Boeing. "Before the MAX returns to service: we need answers and transparency," responded Thursday ECA, the European Federation of pilots.
Beyond the problem of reputation, the crisis of the 737 MAX should have a significant financial cost while this aircraft accounted for nearly 80% of Boeing's backlog at the end of April. The manufacturer, which has suspended deliveries, no longer collects money from airlines that it will also compensate for their shortfall.
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