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EU to Clear 737 MAX to Fly in January

Nov. 24, 2020
The executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency explained that the panel will issue a directive on the steps for lifting its grounding order on the Boeing aircraft, leading to resumed service early in 2021.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will lift its grounding order on Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft in January 2021, the panel’s executive director has confirmed. Such a decision, which would parallel one delivered by the Federal Aviation Administration on November 18, will allow Boeing to resume deliveries of the narrow-body jets to EU customers, and allow those carriers to proceed with updating their current 737 MAX fleets and complete pilot training for the revised flight-control system.

“We wanted to carry out a totally independent analysis of the safety of this aircraft, so we performed our own checks and flight tests,” executive director Patrick Ky told an online conference. “All these studies tell us that the 737 MAX can return to service. We have started to put in place all the measures,” he said.

EASA will issue a directive soon proposing how the grounding order will be lifted, to be followed by a 30-day comment period. FAA took the same approach in October, leading to the clearance earlier this month.  

Many of the 737 MAX jets ordered by carriers operating within EASA’s territory have yet to be delivered, though Norwegian Air Shuttle has 18 of the twin-engine aircraft that could return to service early next year under the outline put forth by the executive director.

EASA’s clearance may smooth the process of safety agencies in Brazil, China, and elsewhere to make the same decision without concern for comparison to the FAA. Ky offered mild criticism of the FAA’s handling of the 737 MAX.

The U.S. agency became embroiled in a conflict with Boeing during the process of determining the cause of two fatal accidents involving the 737 MAX and has been criticized together with Boeing by federal officials and whistleblowers for its role leading up to certifying the aircraft.

The 737 MAX was grounded by FAA, EASA, and other regulating bodies in March 2019 after the second of two crashes that together killed 346 passengers and crew members. 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 was tested separately by FAA, EASA, and Transport Canada inspectors during June and July, and FAA (frequently emphasizing it was coordinating its actions with the other safety agencies) issued guidelines for U.S. carriers to update their aircraft and train their crews.

According to Reuters, Ky announced that EASA would take a more critical approach in the future to granting certification to foreign-built jets, and not rely on FAA or other regulating agencies to vouch for an aircraft’s air-worthiness.

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