MIAMI – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it will soon issue a formal notice regarding the Boeing 737 MAX. The notice would allow for public comment ahead of an Airworthiness Directive clearing the type to fly passengers again.
This step is a clear sign that approval for the aircraft to return to service in the U.S. is near. However, a person familiar with the process and the steps ahead said that a formal ungrounding is now unlikely before mid-October.
Ready for Late October
Boeing had privately indicated that it might unground the jet in September. Some within the company hoped the FAA might issue an ungrounding directive effective immediately, with the public comment possible afterward.
But given the intense scrutiny of the process, that would have invited accusations of predetermining the outcome. It would have also risked potential legal action.
The FAA has instead opted for the standard process, requiring a public comment period ahead of the decision.
Statement from The FAA
The FAA said, “In keeping with our commitment to remain transparent, the (notice) will provide 45 days for the public to comment on proposed design changes and crew procedures.”
“This is to mitigate the safety issues identified during the investigations that followed the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents.”
The FAA statement also noted that this was an important milestone for the MAX to return to service. However, “a number of key steps remain” and it “will not speculate when the work will be completed.”
The Last Steps
After the public comment period closes, the FAA will take some weeks to review the comments and respond to them in a public posting on the Federal Register.
The remaining steps then include a report issued by both the FAA and a panel of international regulators — the Joint Operations Evaluation Board (JOEB) — on proposed new training procedures for 737 MAX flight crews. They will also post these for further public comments.
In addition, the 737 MAX Technical Advisory Board (TAB) — consisting of experts from nine civil aviation authorities worldwide as well as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the FAA — must review Boeing’s final submission of documents on the MAX design changes to evaluate compliance with all FAA regulations.
Only then will the FAA be able to issue its Airworthiness Directive, which will spell out for airlines exactly what changes must be made on each airplane before re-entering commercial service.
After 17 months on the ground, that will give Boeing clearance to re-enter the MAX into service. The FAA reiterated that its process has been painstaking and won’t be rushed.