European regulator removes grounding of Boeing 737 MAX in January by Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft parked at Boeing facilities at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake

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From Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) – Europe will lift its Boeing (NYSE 🙂 737 MAX passenger jet flight ban in January after US regulators ended a 20-month landing last week that was triggered by two fatal crashes.

The head of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said in a statement broadcast on Saturday that the 737 MAX was safe to fly after changes to the jet’s design that crashed twice in five months in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people.

“We wanted to do a completely independent analysis of the safety of this aircraft, so we did our own checks and flight tests,” Executive Director Patrick Ky told Paris Air Forum, an online aviation conference hosted by La Tribune.

“All of these studies show that the 737 MAX can be returned to service. We have started taking all measures,” he said. “It’s likely that in our case we can make the decisions and get them back online sometime in January.”

EASA’s decision is seen as the most important milestone after FAA approval, as it also has significant weight in the industry as the watchdog responsible for Airbus.

Officials confirmed that a draft EASA policy on ending grounding in Europe will be released next week, followed by a 30-day comment period. After the final touches, this would result in an unfounded decision in January.

How long it will take to resume flights in Europe will depend on pilot training and the time it takes airlines to update software and perform other operations required by EASA.

In the United States, commercial flights are scheduled to begin on December 29, just under six weeks after the FAA regulation was published on November 18.

EASA represents the 27 EU countries and four other countries, including Norway, where 92 aircraft have been ordered. Until December 31, it also represents the United Kingdom, which left the EU bloc in January.

FAA LESSONS

The crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia sparked a series of investigations, accusing Boeing of poor designs and the FAA of lax oversight. They also examined close FAA relationships with Boeing.

“It is clear that there have been a number of malfunctions in (FAA) actions and their relationship with Boeing,” said Ky. “I will not go into details as it is not up to me to do this. The FAA is in the process of taking corrective action.”

He said EASA will change some of its own methods and play a more detailed role in analyzing critical features in foreign jets. It would also be “more adamant” to ensure important security clearances are completed before proceeding to the next steps, Ky said. So far, one main regulatory authority has certified an aircraft, others mainly follow different degrees of independent controls.

“What will change is the way we validate and certify Boeing aircraft. That is clear, but will this affect the (certification) times? No, I don’t think so. We will do things differently “said Ky.

Boeing is developing the 777X, a larger version of its 777.

EASA is widely seen as strengthened from the Boeing crisis, and some regulators are waiting for their decisions on the MAX rather than following the FAA immediately as in the past.

FAA chief Steve Dickson downplayed any differences last week, saying there was “very little daylight” between regulators and that the FAA had worked closely with Europe, Canada and Brazil.

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