Euro­pean au­di­tor could clear 737 to fly again by Jan­uary

The National - News - - BUSINESS - THE NA­TIONAL

Boe­ing 737 Max jet is ex­pected to re­turn to ser­vice in the first quarter of next year in Europe, ac­cord­ing to a top avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tor. This is a ma­jor boost of con­fi­dence in the nar­row-body air­craft that has been grounded since March af­ter two fatal crashes.

The Euro­pean Union Avi­a­tion Safety Agency will pos­si­bly ap­prove fly­ing Boe­ing’s best-sell­ing plane in Jan­uary but prepa­ra­tions by na­tional reg­u­la­tors and air­lines could push com­mer­cial flights by an­other two months, Pa­trick Ky, Easa’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said at the agency’s an­nual safety con­fer­ence in Helsinki.

“If there are train­ing re­quire­ments and co-or­di­na­tion to be done with the EU mem­ber states to make sure ev­ery­one does the same thing at the same time, this will take a bit of time,” Mr Ky said, ac­cord­ing to re­ports. “That’s why I’m say­ing the first quarter of 2020.”

Boe­ing has re­it­er­ated that it is aim­ing to re­turn the Max to ser­vice by end of this year af­ter mak­ing soft­ware fixes to the flight con­trol sys­tem im­pli­cated in the crashes that killed 346 peo­ple.

Global avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tors have said they will con­duct their own safety checks on the plane, caus­ing a rift in the in­dus­try about the time­line and steps needed to fly the Max again.

Easa will carry out its own set of re­views on the plane, in­clud­ing sim­u­la­tor and flight tests, be­fore per­mit­ting com­mer­cial flights to re­sume in Europe.

Mr Ky told Reuters that Euro­pean ex­perts have trav­elled to Iowa to the Rock­well Collins aerospace fa­cil­i­ties, which helped de­velop the Max flight con­trol soft­ware with Boe­ing, to be­gin an au­dit of a “rea­son­ably fi­nal” soft­ware ver­sion.

“There has been a lot of work done on the de­sign of the soft­ware,” Mr Ky said. But he added: “We think there is still some work to be done.”

He did not elab­o­rate on the like­li­hood that reg­u­la­tors will re­quire ad­di­tional sim­u­la­tor train­ing for Max pilots, which would add fur­ther de­lay and cost for many air­line cus­tomers, ac­cord­ing to Reuters.

That de­ci­sion can be taken only af­ter Easa’s own sim­u­la­tor and flight tests, Mr Ky said. “It’s re­ally at the end of the process be­cause it’s much more op­er­a­tional,” he said.

The Euro­pean reg­u­la­tor aims to com­plete a de­tailed soft­ware re­view by the end of this month, fol­lowed by De­cem­ber flight tests “if ev­ery­thing goes well”, he added.

The Max ground­ing has dented Boe­ing’s earn­ings, dis­rupted op­er­a­tions for air­lines, hurt op­er­a­tors’ profit and dam­aged trav­ellers’ con­fi­dence in the jet.

How­ever, the Max’s re­turn to ser­vice could pose an­other prob­lem for air­lines: there are con­cerns about air­craft over­sup­ply be­cause Boe­ing has con­tin­ued to pro­duce the plane and is ex­pected to speed de­liv­er­ies to clear or­der back­log.

The sur­plus in air­craft flood­ing the mar­ket, com­bined with wor­ries about a global eco­nomic slow­down and frag­ile growth in travel de­mand, may make it dif­fi­cult to ab­sorb the jets, an­a­lysts say.

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