737 Max Certification Process Will Run into 2020

 - December 11, 2019, 11:54 AM
Stored Boeing 737 Max jets sit grounded at Seattle's Boeing Field. (Photo: Barry Ambrose)

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration will not complete re-certification of the Boeing 737 Max before the end of the year, FAA administrator Stephen Dickson said Wednesday before testifying at a House Transportation Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. Appearing on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Dickson said that authorities must meet a number of milestones before allowing the airplane to fly in service again, including definition of pilot training requirements and completion of a report that the FAA must release for public comment.

During the hearings, Dickson pledged to fly the airplane himself before clearing it for certification. “The FAA fully controls the approvals process and is not delegating anything to Boeing,” said Dickson.

Late last month Boeing lost its approval to certify individual 737 Max jets for flight as a result of a decision by the FAA to bar the manufacturer from issuing its own airworthiness certificates under its organizational designation authority (ODA). The agency said it would reserve the authority to issue the certificates until Boeing puts in place “fully functional quality control and verification processes.” In the past, the FAA shared responsibility with Boeing to issue certification ahead of delivery.

“When the 737 Max returns to service it will be because all of the safety issues have been addressed and pilots have received all the training they need to safely operate the aircraft,” added Dickson. “This process is not guided by a calendar or schedule.”

Dickson listed actions that remain pending before re-certification, including a certification flight test and completion of work by the joint operations evaluation board involving evaluation of pilot training needs.   

During his questioning, committee chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio called for a commitment by Dickson to investigate why the FAA did not ground the airplane after the first Max crash, that of Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018. DeFazio cited an FAA analysis following the Lion Air accident that projected as many as 15 more fatal crashes of the 737 Max over the model’s service life if the MCAS problem went uncorrected.

“The FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive that purported to inform pilots on how to respond to an erroneous activation of MCAS while actually never mentioning the system by name,” said DeFazio. “In fact, during the certification of the 737 Max, Boeing actively pushed the FAA to remove references to MCAS from the flight crew operating manual, as revealed in the emails and instant messages from Boeing executive Mark Forkner.”

DeFazio further noted that the FAA also reached the conclusion that 99 out of 100 flight crews could comply with the airworthiness directive and successfully react within 10 seconds to the “cacophony” of alarms and alerts recounted in the NTSB report of the Lion Air crash.

“Such an assumption we know now was tragically wrong,” he said. “Despite its own calculations, the FAA rolled the dice on the safety of the traveling public and let the Max continue to fly until Boeing could overhaul its MCAS software. Tragically, the FAA’s analysis, which never saw the light of day beyond the closed doors of the FAA and Boeing, was correct.”