For the first time since the two fatal accidents involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 and the worldwide grounding of the type in March, European pilots have weighed in on the certification and pending recertification of the aircraft, describing the process as flawed.
The October 29 crash of Lion Air Flight 610 into the Java Sea 12 minutes from Jakarta and the March 10 crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa have shined a spotlight on “critical flaws that have developed in the system as regards design, certification, regulation, and adequate training,” the European Cockpit Association (ECA) said Thursday. The Brussels-based body, which represents more than 38,000 pilots, called “extremely worrying” the blurring of lines between the manufacturer and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) during the certification process and called on the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to remain independent and thorough in its review and certification of the 737 Max MCAS software update. Regulators from around the globe planned to meet Thursday in Texas to discuss a possible return to service of the grounded 737 Max.
“Boeing essentially built a plane to a wish list that would sell well—meeting attractive fuel, cost, and performance metrics, with minimal additional pilot training requirements,” asserted ECA president Jon Horne. “But the problem is that it seems there was no independent regulator to look at this in-depth from a safety perspective and scrutinize what appears to be a design philosophy driven by commercial priorities. What has been revealed is an oversight and regulatory setup that leaves pilots’ trust and confidence severely undermined.”
The model of “delegated certification” likely exists in other aircraft programs and regions, it noted, adding that legislators must assess the process in Europe. Norwegian and TUI stand as the largest European operators of the grounded Max, but Ryanair has placed the largest order for the type in the region. The Irish low-cost carrier planned to take delivery of its first 737 Max 200, fitted with 197 seats, last month and has ordered 135 of the aircraft with the option for 75 more. Speaking at the company’s full-year results presentation on Monday, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary expressed the “utmost confidence” in the aircraft, as well as in Boeing and the FAA.
The ECA, however, does not. “It is deeply disturbing that both the FAA and Boeing are considering a return to service, but failing to discuss the many challenging questions [raised] by the Max design philosophy,” it noted. The association emphasized European pilots will rely “heavily” on EASA to scrutinize and explain the certification and the potential return to service of the Max because of the lack of information provided by Boeing and the FAA.
EASA executive director Patrick Ky told the EU Parliament's transport committee March 18 the Cologne-based agency would conduct its own review of the Max software fixes and now has defined three “prerequisite conditions” before lifting the type’s grounding, the Financial Times reported. EASA must approve any design changes by Boeing and the agency must conduct an additional independent design review. It also called for adequate training of Max flight crews.
Horne said the ECA fully supports EASA’s prerequisite conditions. The EU agency, he insisted, must carry out an independent and thorough review. “Simply accepting the FAA’s word on the Max’s safety won’t be enough,” he proclaimed.
A Boeing spokesman in Brussels said the airframer has worked “closely with EASA, FAA, and other global regulators on the process they have laid out for certifying the updated Max software along with the associated enhanced pilot training and education that will help prevent accidents like these from ever happening again.”