Boeing 737 Max’s return to service may get further delayed

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Published: November 8, 2019 6:17:03 AM

In March, the FAA decided to ground the 737 MAX, days after an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed soon after take-off.

Boeing 737 Max, Boeing 737 Max return, Boeing MAX, FAA, Lion Air, Ethiopian Airlines, DGCABoeing has since made software upgrades providing additional systems of protection.

The safety certification of the Boeing 737 Max, which were grounded across the globe after two fatal air crashes, may get further delayed resulting in a later return to service of the aircraft, sources said. The American aircraft manufacturer had earlier indicated that it aimed to return the aircraft to service by December 2019. However, foreign regulatory authorities, including the American Federation Aviation Administration (FAA), may take some more time before giving the Boeing MAX a green signal.

“They are going through every part of the airplane, to ensure that it is safe to fly. With this level of scrutiny, which is fully expected, they are bound to have various questions. With every FAA query that impacts our timeline, we will respond expeditiously. But beyond that we cannot say anything with certainty about the timeline, because we do not know by when it could return to service. It depends on when the all regulators are satisfied,” a source involved in the process told FE.

In March, the FAA decided to ground the 737 MAX, days after an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed soon after take-off. Regulators around the world followed suit. In October 2018, a 737 MAX aircraft operated by Lion Air was also involved in a crash. The two accidents reportedly killed 346 people.

Following the plane crashes, an international technical panel was set up in April to review the certification of the aircraft. The panel, in its report published in October, found that the American civil aviation regulator’s aircraft safety certification process was lacking. “The FAA had inadequate awareness of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) function which, coupled with limited involvement, resulted in an inability of the FAA to provide an independent assessment of the adequacy of the Boeing proposed certification activities associated with MCAS,”stated the report. The MCAS is a flight control system designed in the 737 MAX to to prevent the aircraft from stalling, a condition in which it is no longer able to provide necessary lift for a normal flight. The software also allows pilots to release controls without the aircraft deviating from the programmed path.

The technical panel’s report stated that both flights involved in the accident suffered “an extreme mis-trim event, which involved the activation of the MCAS function”. Boeing has since made software upgrades providing additional systems of protection. The aircraft manufacturer also submitted the requisite documentation for the FAA’s approval on these changes, however, the FAA asked for some revision in the same, sources said.

Boeing India president Salil Gupte maintained that the company aims to return the aircraft to service by December and is working with regulators to ensure the same. “We have engaged in a dialogue with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and are working with all of them (regulators),” Gupte told reporters on Thursday.

The DGCA had earlier stated that it would await FAA’s safety certification before allowing the grounded planes in India to operate again. Even after the FAA certification, DCGA wants adequate training for pilots flying the 737 Max with the updated software before giving a go-ahead. Gupte said the company will have to discuss with all the regulators regarding their specific requirements for the pilot training.

SpiceJet, which grounded its 737 MAX aircraft earlier this year, was significantly hit by the grounding of the aircraft. In the quarter ended June, the company said that it incurred `114 crore towards aircraft and supplemental lease rentals on account of the grounded planes. The budget carrier has added 32 aircraft to counter revenue losses of the grounded planes and is in the process of seeking reimbursements from Boeing. SpiceJet has 155 firm orders of Boeing aircraft, including the currently grounded ones. Boeing also has an unfulfilled order for 125 MAX aircraft with the now grounded Jet Airways, the manufacturer said.

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