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FAA Set to Lift 737 MAX Grounding Order

Nov. 11, 2020
The top-selling twin-engine aircraft reportedly has cleared the agency’s review of is various safety issues and could be released from the 19-month-long restriction by November 18.

The Federal Aviation Administration is set to “unground” the Boeing 737 MAX passenger aircraft within days, according to published reports. Reuters cited sources saying the FAA would lift its grounding order by November 18, bringing to a close more than 19 months of investigation, testing, and recertification for the twin-engine aircraft series following two accidents that killed a total 346 passengers and crew members, in October 2018 and March 2019.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson has stated that his agency will lift the grounding order “once (it) is satisfied that Boeing has addressed” the safety issues responsible for the crashes. FAA last month published a summary of the program changes it requires for the aircraft to resume safe operations, including new pilot training procedures. The U.S. agency has been coordinating its handling of the issue with Transport Canada, the European Air Safety Administration, and other agencies around the world.

Boeing has not commented on the pending FAA move.

Following the second crash, FAA and other regulating bodies issued grounding orders on the 737 MAX jets already in service. Boeing halted all deliveries at that time, though production of new aircraft continued.

Investigations into the two crashes resulted in Boeing redeveloping the 737 MAX Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), the flight control software cited as the cause of the two crashes. Reportedly, the previous flight-control software misidentified the jets' "angle of attack" (AOA), and prevented the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines pilots from overriding an automated descent that resulted in the two incidents.

The new MCAS draws more data from multiple sensors, and it has been extensively tested by FAA and other safety agencies during the recent months. In addition, Boeing and FAA have agreed on a more extensive, simulator-based training program for 737 MAX crews.

Once the 737 MAX grounding order is lifted, Boeing, and other air safety agencies working in coordination with FAA provide similar authorization, Boeing would be able to resume deliveries of what has been its best-selling model.

Then, individual airlines would have to complete the software updates and pilot training programs – which would mean the jets could return to service by the end of 2020.

The largest airline operator of the 737 MAX, Southwest Airlines, reportedly plans to spend several months complying the FAA requirements. Reuters reported that SWA does not plan to schedule flights on the 737 MAX until 2Q 2021.

While FAA moves to reauthorize the 737 MAX for commercial activity, the Wall Street Journal cited a source claiming that the agency also is considering new penalties or other action against Boeing Co., because of a number of quality-control failures in Boeing assembly operations, as well as allegations of Boeing management pressuring employees to certify the 737 MAX safety systems.