What Will Happen If Countries Don’t Lift The 737 MAX Ban Simultaneously?

Boeing’s 737 MAX has been grounded since March. It almost feels like the new normal. But sooner or later the MAX will get airborne again. The big US airlines seem tentatively optimistic that this may be around the end of the year. But the US and their regulatory agency, the FAA, are just one part of the larger equation. Boeing’s 737 MAX flies into countries and jurisdictions all over the world. Each will need their regulatory agency to tick off the MAX and there’s no guarantee they will simply follow the FAA’s lead. 

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There are 376 MAX’s grounded at airports around the world. Photo: Acefitt via Wikimedia Commons.

What will happen if countries don’t lift the 737 MAX ban simultaneously?

The MAX grounding impacts are worldwide

In excess of forty carriers around the world have a combined total of 376 737 MAXs sitting idle. The vast majority of the airlines that have 737 MAXs are based outside of the United States. Each has a local regulatory equivalent of the FAA, which will need to OK the type before it can fly.

In addition, some airlines may plan to fly the MAX into a country which is not a home base for any 737 MAXs of its own. If that country will not allow the 737 MAX into its airspace until it is confident Boeing has sorted out problems with the aircraft, this could pose a logistical nightmare.

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Fiji Airways, which has two 737 MAXs grounded, is an example. It flew the aircraft into New Zealand, a nation with no MAXs of its own. But New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority will need to give the aircraft the okay before it can land anywhere there. In a statement, New Zealand’s  Director of Civil Aviation, Graeme Harris said; 

“We continue to monitor the situation closely and analyze information as it comes to hand to determine the safety risks of continued operation of the Boeing 737 MAX to and from New Zealand.” 

It is, in a nutshell, a byzantine maze of regulatory authorities that Boeing must satisfy to get the MAX back into the air everywhere. There is absolutely no guarantee this will happen simultaneously. Indeed, the odds are that the exact opposite will occur.

Who will the laggards be?

The western countries which have an aviation regulatory regime similar to the United States will probably fall into line with the FAA’s position reasonably swiftly. These are countries which enjoy close trading, political, and cultural ties with the United States. They also have relatively similar regulatory standards, frameworks, and a fair degree of inbuilt reciprocity.

The laggards will be countries less aligned to the United States. China is an example. China has a lot of stranded 737 MAXs sitting around its airports. It is also in the middle of a trade and political brawl with the United States. It would be optimistic to assume China will simply follow the FAA’s lead and automatically clear the MAX’s to fly in its airspace.

Indeed, you could expect the Civil Aviation Administration of China to assert its independence. The CAAC has said previously in regard to the 737 MAX they will,

“… adopt a risk-based safety elements evaluation mechanism to conduct a comprehensive and in-depth review of its design changes.”

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China is unlikely to automatically follow the FAA’s lead. Photo: Alan Wilson via Flickr.

You might expect a similar position from Russia, another big nation that is no friend of the United States right now. The role of politics in getting the 737 MAX back in the air in these countries should not be understated.

Being seen to be independent is a factor

Smaller countries will be keen to assert their independence and send a message to their citizens that they are not just following what the United States does.

Being seen to be independent is usually important from a political and cultural perspective. Even allied countries like New Zealand, whilst enjoying close links to the United States, won’t want to appear to their citizens to be the yes men to the FAA.

This will become even more acute as the cultural and political distance from the United States widens. Aviation authorities in Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East will want to be seen as conducting their own due diligence independent of the FAA.

And the countries that were most impacted by the 737 MAX – Indonesia and Ethiopia? They’ll apply the metaphorical blow torch to the MAX before they give it the okay to fly again.

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Indonesia is likely to go through the MAX with a fine-tooth comb before the clear it to fly again after the Lion Air incident. Photo: Bathara Sakti via Flickr.

 

All of which makes the probability of the 737 MAX getting back into the skies simultaneously a pretty unlikely proposition. 

Overall

If this plays out as we expect, it means airlines operating the aircraft will have to stagger the reintroduction of the 737 MAX as clearances to fly come in. It presents further logistical and financial costs to the airlines affected. 

How long will this last for? You’d have to think even the most recalcitrant country will get back on board reasonably quickly. In most cases, you’d assume the delay might be a few days. Perhaps in a couple of outlier cases, a week or so. But even the delay of a week will send a strong message that a country and its aviation agency is not beholden to the United States and the FAA.

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Kevin

The author of this article is seriously mistaken. Regulators in other countries will take a much tougher line on this than a few days or a week after the FAA. The FAA, and Boeing, whiffed on the Max big time. Most countries understand this and will take longer to re-certify and will want to distance themselves from the FAA by quite a distance. Moreover there is the whole matter of pilot training. Foreign regulators may very well demand more training for their countries Max pilots. This ain’t over by a long shot!

Frank

Agreed. Would be interesting to know who Andrew thinks is going to give Boeing and the FAA a pass

Phillip Parrish

If the world regulators are allowed adequate reasonable input in the recertification process, I don’t see “giving Boeing and the FAA a free pass” becoming an issue. These regulators have their own airlines looking over their shoulder too. And these airlines (who need planes) will be keen on what’s reasonable and what isn’t reasonable. The biggest issue I see is Boeing’s Management and BOD’s lack of ability to look beyond the next few earnings calls to find opportunities in the exercise rather than focusing on limiting short-term losses.

Frank

“The western countries which have an aviation regulatory regime similar to the United States will probably fall into line with the FAA’s position reasonably swiftly. These are countries which enjoy close trading, political, and cultural ties with the United States. They also have relatively similar regulatory standards, frameworks, and a fair degree of inbuilt reciprocity.” Would be interested to know what countries you are referencing. EASA is not onboard with the FAA. Canada wants simulator training and since Boeing killed off the C-Series and Trump has put tariffs on Canada, they will get no breaks there. China will use the… Read more »

Chief_Engineer

The European EASA has 4 points it wants to clear independently before the 737 MAX can be certified in Europe. A couple of these points apparently irritate FAA quite a bit. USA will learn the hard way that an aviation authority and airplane manufacturer cannot be on too friendly terms. FAA used to be the leading aviation authority in the world but now, nobody trusts FAA. Boeing has screwed up big time. The fact that Boeing did not go for a whole new narrow body design is testament to the culture of greed that exists in USA. With this case,… Read more »

Frank

Just to answer the headline question:

Boeing and the FAA will make US passengers the guinea pigs for the 737 Max

kfk

In what way? Yes, US flights might be the first to resume, but operators from other countrys will not base their certification using data from US commercial flights. How could they? What data could they possibly get?

Frank

Well – they will let the planes fly and see if they crash, if there are any reported problems from MCAS and how pilots respond to the new software.

Jim

The USA didn’t crash any prior, they won’t after. Much better trained pilot’s than 3rd world countries or the Brit’s.

Xavier Cugat

USA had 20% of the MAX flying, so statistics and probabilities makes the rest. If 80% of the MAX flying are outside USA, even with 2 accidents the most probable is that both are outside USA.

It is not an issue that pilots in USA are supercool.

frank thomas

Regulators across the globe have clearly stated they have issues with the 737 Max design; including MCAS. FAA has stated they want to to wait for the “The Joint Authorities Technical Review” (JATR) panel report and act in unison with regulators around the world to bring the 737 Max back online. But Boeing’s CEO is saying opposite of FAA. CEO is saying the return could be staggered. And that FAA’s clearance should come in the 4Q19. I really think FAA should clearly state the FAA’s position on 737 Max return date. FAA has never stated a 4Q19 return date. Only… Read more »

anonymous

Dennis Muilenburg to public and employees: Safety has always been a core value at Boeing.
Dennis Muilenburg to board of directors and investors: Boeing stock has always been a core value at Boeing.

Shapes

I can’t say I agree in any way with this article, the FAA has destroyed its own credibility so why should ANYONE accept what it says? It has lost its place as the leader in aviation safety. I for one will wait with interest to see what the Chinese say because I believe nothing from boing or the faa. I’m sure the Chinese will tell us why the max won’t be re certified by them, and finally then we may start learning the truth behind the max. (I am not Chinese by the way) Boing will still be crying they… Read more »

Trent

Seems strange that there are so many misunderstandings about the Max, the reasoning behind MCAS, Boeing, and the FAA. As evident in the comments. I agree with the author on many respects on the opinion piece. The FAA has severely damaged it reputation. A result of the cooperate and government culture in the US for the past 15 years. I would guess that China will be the last the re-certify the plane, as i believe they were the first to ground it. What will be fascinating to me is to watch the re-certification domino’s fall. The FAA will re-certify it,… Read more »

Shapes

The Software was programed to raise the rear stabilzer by 2.5degrees on receipt of a certain AOA value, and it done just that. Why is everyone saying it didn’t work?
It was fed erroneous data by the faulty AOA sensor, no fault of the software.

Trent

That’s a good way to look at it!

MP66

Reminds me of “The operation was a success, but the patient died.”

Speedskier

Sure, the software did what it was designed to do. The point is that the design was hopelessly flawed. Where to start? A safety critical system has no redundancy and even the warning light is an optional extra? And when it fails it can carry on moving the elevator until aerodynamic forces overpower the flight crew. Who are trained to deal with runaway trim but this is a situation which is harder to recognise since it is intermittent and they don’t even know the system exists? It is worrying if software has not been built right and that testing failed… Read more »

Simon

Boeing’s decision to install larger engines on an existing wing design has caused aerodynamic instability which, instead of redesigning the wings (which should have happened) they didn’t want to go through re certification. They created a program to counter the aerodynamic design floor. Creating programs to overcome mechanical design faults should NEVER receive legal certification. Once again, big business cheaping out to push a product onto the market without doing the job correctly has caused loss of life & they should be taught a final lesson.
Remove the wings & upgrade them or leave the aircraft grounded indefinitely.

Frank

…and in that vein, India today announced that they will not accept FAA certification and will do their own certifying process.

shapes

WOW DID ANYONE SEE THAT PUBLISHED ARTICLE STATING THE MAX HAD BEEN RE-CERTIFIED? IT WAS QUICKLY TAKEN DOWN.

India Will Join Europe In Making Own Validation Of Boeing 737 MAX
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Alice Genes
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WordsMatter

And what if there’s another incident with the MAX after it is cleared by all the world’s regulators? Will Boeing argue that the world regulators knew exactly what they were allowing back into the skies and are therefore also partly responsible? Why should world regulators take on whatever accountability for a product which is essentially outdated with makeshift design fixes? It’s not exactly as if the MAX is passing scrutiny with ease and with flying colours at this point. If a regulator clears the 737 MAX to fly, the plane is cleared warts and all. This is a big favour… Read more »