After causing two crashes and the loss of 346 lives, regulators and airlines around the world have scrutinized the Boeing 737 MAX plane, leading to it being grounded since March 2019. While there were hopes it would eventually return to the skies in late 2019, this never came to pass.
Now, Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), has told Bloomberg that he’s satisfied with the changes that Boeing has made to the 737 Max, which he believes now make the plane safe enough to return to the region’s skies before 2020 is out, even as a further upgrade (a synthetic sensor to add redundancy) his agency demanded won’t be ready for up to two years.
“Our analysis is showing that this is safe, and the level of safety reached is high enough for us,” Ky said. “What we discussed with Boeing is the fact that with the third sensor, we could reach even higher safety levels.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), America’s regulator, has yet to offer its approval yet. Bloomberg notes that the regulator is further along in its review, but has avoided making predictions about the timing of the jet’s return. FAA chief Steve Dickson flew the Max late last month and said the plane’s controls felt “very comfortable,” but the review process wasn’t complete.
“The FAA must act before EASA and other agencies around the world can lift the grounding, under international law,” Bloomberg said. “Boeing hasn’t submitted its final package of documentation including software audits and safety assessments, said a person familiar with the process who wasn’t permitted to speak publicly. The submissions are expected soon.”
Another string of good news for the plane maker soon followed, with American Airlines announcing that it plans to operate one Max flight a day from December 29 through January 4 between Miami and New York.
Both crashes were caused by faulty new systems
Both tragic crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019 are believed to have been caused by the same issue: a fault in the plane’s software. The 737 MAX was relatively new at the time, and Boeing had downplayed the introduction of a program called the MCAS system, a flight-control software that is responsible for support in the balancing of the plane’s jet nose. In both instances, the MCAS system kicked in when not needed, causing both planes to dip their nose not long after takeoff, leading to both planes crashing.
Extended investigation into the matter found plenty of condemning evidence. According to CNN, Boeing supposedly made little effort to inform airlines of its newly-added MCAS system.
“Neither the Max training nor the flight manual disclosed the existence of a stabilization system known as MCAS, which was designed to operate in the background so that the Max, with larger engines and different aerodynamics, would fly similarly to the previous version,” CNN explained.
Furthermore, a batch of internal documents seen by CNN show that internal discontent among its employees surrounded the 737 MAX as early as 2017, shedding light on a troubled and controversial development cycle.
“Would you put your family on a Max simulator-trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” read one of the internal messages among employees.
Among the 737 MAX’s biggest customers is flydubai, which has the second largest backlog of MAX jets.