US Congress Clears Boeing for 737-7/-10 MAX Certification

US Congress Clears Boeing for 737-7/-10 MAX Certification

DALLAS — Congressional leaders have come to an agreement on an end-of-year US government spending bill that includes an amendment to grant Boeing the authorization it needs to have its 737-7 and -10 MAX aircraft certified without additional changes.

The amendment makes sure that the aforementioned MAX aircraft, which have not yet entered service, are exempt from a deadline included in legislation passed in 2020.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could not certify those two aircraft to carry passengers without an extensive design upgrade to the systems that alert the crew when something goes wrong in flight.

Thanks to the Congressional waiver, it can now do so.

Boeing MAX production line. Photo: Boeing

Content of the Bill

The design revamps were created by Boeing for the 737-10. The Boeing 737-7 and two earlier models, the -8 and -9 variants, which are already certified and in service, must also be retrofitted, according to the legislation.

After the 737-10 is certified, the amendment gives Boeing three years to retrofit those safety upgrades to all other MAX models; otherwise, after that time, none of them can be operated.

The new bill’s language also includes a requirement that all airlines retrofit two specific safety improvements, even though the crew alerting system upgrade will not be required (more on this below). This retrofit requirement was first proposed earlier this month by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.

Further, the bill mandates that Boeing, which had fought for an amendment to prevent additional costs and a delay in both aircraft entering into service, pay for the retrofits.

Boeing 737-8 MAX cockpit. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

Opposition from Pilots

Sen. Cantwell welcomed the addition of the stipulation she suggested as opposed to just giving Boeing a straight extension. According to Cantwell, the legislation that was advanced on Tuesday was much stronger than the “no-strings-attached” approach that was first offered. The Sen. added that the entire MAX fleet would be uniform and safer, and passengers need to know this.

But what about the pilots of the 737 MAX aircraft and their need for an upgraded alerting system?

In October of this year, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), representing the 15,000 American Airlines (AA) pilots, expressed opposition to the extension of the Boeing 737-7 and -10 equipment exemption. At the time, Boeing did not anticipate certification of the largest 737 MAX variant before summer 2023.

APA President Capt. Edward Sicher said, “Boeing needs to proceed with installing modern crew alerting systems on these aircraft to mitigate pilot startle effect and confusion during complex, compound system malfunctions.

In APA’s view, “Once these systems are installed and pilots have been properly trained on them, our crews will be better able to identify system failures and prioritize corrective actions that could save lives.”

Capt. Edward Sicher continued, “Pilots must have the tools we need to keep our passengers safe. By equipping these aircraft with modern crew alerting systems, Boeing can maintain a strong order book for them, which will in turn protect the jobs of the thousands of hard-working men and women who build the airplanes. Doing so will also help Boeing to continue rebuilding public trust.”

Fair enough, the requirement Congress placed on Boeing’s reprieve merely mandates for U.S. airlines what the aviation regulators in Canada and Europe have already said they will demand of airlines operating in their respective airspace.

This means that in any case, Boeing would have had to provide the two safety upgrades as retrofits.

Boeing 737-7. Brandon Farris/Airways

Opposition from Victims of the MAX Crashes

The safety waiver has been opposed by the families of the two MAX crash victims from 2018 and 2019. According to a Seattle Times report, Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya Rose Stumo perished on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, described the move by Congress as “a total swamp move” in an interview.

He claimed that without hearings, data, or scrutiny, Congress was reducing safety with “pure political power” and enabling Boeing’s profits over safety.

The Seattle news outlet also reports that Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the House Transportation Committee, which led the key congressional investigation into the MAX crashes, continues to oppose any waiver for Boeing on the crew-alerting system, and a spokesperson for his committee said the language was included in the bill despite his objection.

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Featured image: The 737-10 MAX is the larger variant of the MAX family. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

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