The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded globally since March 2019, following two fatal crashes. For the past 19 months Boeing has been making fixes to the plane and working on getting it certified once again. Well, there’s some great news for Boeing today.
The first major global regulator has just signed off on the Boeing 737 MAX returning to the skies.
European regulators sign off on Boeing 737 MAX
Patrick Ky, Executive Director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has today stated that he’s satisfied with the changes that Boeing has made to the 737 MAX.
This is a major milestone, but even so, the 737 MAX won’t be able to return to the European skies immediately:
- The EASA is currently performing final document reviews
- Then a draft airworthiness is expected to be issued next month
- That will be followed by a four week period for public comment
- At that point the plane will be able to once again enter commercial service in Europe, which is expected to happen before the end of the year
The 737 MAX could be flying in Europe before the end of the year
EASA still demands further 737 MAX upgrades
While the EASA is willing to allow the 737 MAX to return to the skies, the agency is still requiring the development of a synthetic sensor, to add redundancy to the plane’s angle-of-attack sensors.
This is expected to take up to two years to develop, though the plane is still allowed to fly in the meantime. As Ky describes this:
“Our analysis is showing that this is safe, and the level of safety reached is high enough for us. What we discussed with Boeing is the fact that with the third sensor, we could reach even higher safety levels.”
This will be required on the 737 MAX 10 when it debuts in 2022, and will have to be retrofitted on other versions of the 737 MAX.
Existing 737 MAXs will be retrofitted with these new sensors
Support from foreign regulators is significant
The 737 MAX certification process and investigation has brought a lot of things to light, both regarding Boeing’s corporate culture, and also regarding its relationship with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
As the 737 MAX has undergone the certification process, one major question has been whether foreign regulators would follow the FAA’s lead. In other words, even if the FAA certified the 737 MAX, would other regulators, given that they let us down the first time around?
It’s certainly a good sign for Boeing that the first real approval is coming from a non-US regulator. It’s expected that within weeks the FAA will also clear the 737 MAX to return to the skies, but in this case the EASA feels more comfortable with the plane than the FAA (at least publicly).
Ultimately it’s up to each individual aviation regulator to decide on their policy. Presumably they’re not all going to do test flights on the plane, so it’ll be interesting to see if there’s widespread support of FAA and EASA approval, or what ends up happening.
Will other regulators follow the EASA’s lead?
We’ll see how passengers respond
I’ll be very curious to see how the public responds to the 737 MAX returning to the skies:
- So many people have said “I’ll never fly that plane,” but only time will tell if that’s just empty talk, or if people follow through on that; it could be like people who threaten to never fly an airline again, and then the next time when that airline is a dollar cheaper than the competitor, they book it
- We’ve seen some airlines say they’ll let people rebook if they are scheduled to be on a 737 MAX, so I’m curious to see just how many airlines have a policy like this; perhaps it’s a moot point for now, as airlines are waiving change fees in general
- Boeing is quietly rebranding the 737 MAX — for example, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is now being branded as the 737-8, so clearly Boeing is hoping that people forget the “MAX” name
Would I be comfortable flying the 737 MAX when it returns to service? Well:
- Have I lost a lot of respect for both Boeing and the FAA throughout this process? Absolutely
- But personally I’d be happy to fly the 737 MAX again once it’s approved by multiple reputable regulators
Ironically airlines might just as unhappy as passengers about the 737 MAX being cleared to fly again, because they’ll be on the hook for paying for these planes, and won’t be getting compensation from Boeing anymore.
Will passengers really not fly the 737 MAX?
European regulators have stated that they’re happy with the changes that Boeing has made to the 737 MAX, and expect the plane to be flying again before the end of the year.
In many ways approval from the EASA is almost more valuable than approval from the FAA — getting a non-US regulator onboard with the plane is a huge step in the right direction.
It sounds like the 737 MAX should be back in the European skies before the end of the year, and I’d guess it will be back in US skies around the same time. Only time will tell how passengers will respond.
What do you make of the return of the Boeing 737 MAX?