Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dickson confirmed Wednesday the agency will not allow Boeing Co.’s grounded 737 MAX, involved in two fatal crashes in five months, to resume flying before the end of 2019.
Dickson told CNBC in an interview ahead of his testimony before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that there are nearly a dozen milestones that must be completed before the plane can return to service.
Federal officials told Reuters earlier this week the FAA is not expected to authorize the plane to fly until January at the earliest, citing significant work still to be done. Some U.S. officials think it may not be until at least February that Dickson gives the green light.
Dickson will testify alongside Earl Lawrence, the FAA’s aircraft certification chief. Others set to appear include a former Boeing employee who raised concerns about 737 production and a former FAA employee.
Once the FAA clears the plane to fly and approves training changes, it will still take U.S. airlines 30 days or more to resume flights. Dickson told CNBC the FAA has not made a decision on pilot training requirements.
The three U.S. carriers that operate the 737 MAX – Southwest Airlines Co, American Airlines Group Inc and United Airlines Holdings Inc – are scheduling flights without use of the aircraft until early March 2020, nearly a year since the plane was grounded after crashes killed 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Boeing must still conduct a certification test flight and there are a number of other steps, including technical reviews, that must be completed before the FAA will allow flights to resume.
Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in remarks prepared for Wednesday’s hearing that he appreciates Dickson’s “commitment that the 737 MAX will not take flight again until you … are 100% confident in its safety.”
Boeing has said the feeding of erroneous data to a computer system called MCAS that pushed the two planes lower was a common link in two wider chains of events leading to the crashes. Boeing is revising the 737 MAX software to require its MCAS system to receive input from two sensors, and has added additional safeguards.
U.S. lawmakers have been critical of the FAA’s prior decisions to delegate a significant amount of plane certification tasks to Boeing.
“Boeing made egregious errors, including the furtive implementation of MCAS while knowing it could present a ‘catastrophic’ risk,” DeFazio’s statement says.
“The FAA also failed to do its job. It failed to provide the regulatory oversight necessary to ensure the safety of the flying public.”
The FAA said last week it is not delegating any of the ongoing review to Boeing, and will be the only issuer of airworthiness certificates for all new 737 MAX planes.
Boeing said in November it expected the FAA to certify the 737 MAX, issue an airworthiness directive and unground the plane in mid-December, even as it acknowledged it would not win approval for changes to pilot training until January. Boeing declined to comment this week on that forecast, deferring to the FAA.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Mark Potter)
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