According to a Reuters report released yesterday, the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expecting to approve Boeing’s 737 MAX jet to return to service as soon as late June. The information comes from undisclosed sources, as FAA representatives briefed the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Thursday.
At this meeting, 33 regulators from around the world attended a day-long session hosted by the FAA in Fort Worth, Texas. The purpose of the meeting was “to share information on evaluating changes to the Boeing 737 MAX design” according to the The Star.
The pressure is on
With the peak summer travel season just around the corner, airlines around the world are eagerly awaiting approval for the jets to fly once again. This is especially true for airlines with a sizeable fleet of the grounded aircraft.
For example, out of a 775-strong fleet, Southwest Airlines have 34 MAX aircraft not currently flying. China Southern have 24 MAXs in a total fleet of 597. There are also smaller airlines like FlyDubai, which have 22% of their fleet on the ground with 14 MAXs in their 64-aircraft fleet. None of these figures include undelivered aircraft.
In addition to pressure from airline revenue loss, there is the obvious issue of Boeing sales and deliveries. We know that in April, Boeing sold zero new aircraft. On top of this, recently manufactured 737 MAX planes are filling up the space at Boeing’s facilities. An Engineering.com article states:
“The planes are being crowded into storage lots at the Renton facility; at the Paine Field next to another Boeing factory in Everett, Washington, and at the company’s Seattle Delivery Center.”
There is no doubt Boeing needs to resolve this issue as soon as possible. However, FAA representatives have made it clear there is still no firm timetable for the 737 MAX to fly again.
FAA facing doubts
With the lack of initial leadership by the FAA following the Ethiopian crash, other aviation authorities say they will be deciding independently if the grounding will continue.
Following Thursday’s meeting, Nicolas Robinson, Transport Canada’s director general of civil aviation, told reporters:
“[Return to service will only happen] once there is confidence that the planes are safe to do so and all concerns have been addressed”
Concerns are echoed in Europe as the European Cockpit Association said in a statement to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency:
“For European pilots… it is deeply disturbing that both the FAA and Boeing are considering a return to service, but failing to discuss the many challenging questions prompted by the Max design philosophy.”
China’s aviation regulator was the first authority to ground the aircraft after the March crash in Ethiopia. It did not have any immediate comments regarding the Fort Worth meeting. However, we do know that several Chinese airlines are requesting compensation for losses suffered during the grounding.
Perhaps the most condemning comments have come from within the United States as longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader speaking with CNBC said:
“The FAA has been in the pockets of the Boeing company for years — pressured by Congress and the White House on both parties to cut budgets, to cut staff, [and] reduce their talent pool to oversee Boeing.”
It will be interesting to see if Boeing and the FAA can indeed have the 737 MAX flying by late June. However, even more interesting will be how long it takes other authorities to follow the lead of the FAA.