Europe’s leading aviation authority said he was pleased that changes to Boeing Co.’s 737 Max have made the aircraft safe enough to return to the region’s skies before 2020, despite another upgrade his agency had requested will not be ready 2 years.
Following the test flights carried out in September, EASA is conducting final document reviews ahead of a draft airworthiness directive, which is expected to be released next month, said Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency.
Patrick Ky [File: Bloomberg]This will be followed by four weeks of public commentary, while developing what is known as a synthetic sensor to increase redundancy will take 20 to 24 months, he said. The software-based solution will be required for the larger Max 10 variant before its debut in 2022 and will be upgraded to other versions.
“Our analysis shows that this is safe and that the level of security achieved is high enough for us,” said Ky in an interview. “What we discussed with Boeing is the fact that we can achieve even higher levels of safety with the third sensor.”
The comments are the strongest endorsement to date by any major regulator of Boeing’s goal to get the beleaguered workhorse back into operation by the end of the year after numerous delays and setbacks. The Max, the latest iteration of the venerable 737 narrow-body, was launched in March 2019 after two accidents with 346 fatalities and sparked a crisis that cost Boeing billions of dollars and then CEO Dennis Muilenburg his job.
While the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing’s premier certification body, has pushed ahead with its review, it has held back from making any predictions about when. FAA chief Steve Dickson flew the Max late last month and said it was “very comfortable” but the process was not complete.
Boeing rose 5.5% to $ 173.21 at 9:35 a.m. in New York. This was the strongest gain in the S&P 500 index. By Thursday, stocks had lost half their value that year, posting the largest drop against the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
A spokeswoman for the Chicago-based company declined to comment.
EASA’s views are weighty given the flaws in the original certification process that undermined the former reputation of the US regulator.
Ky said the synthetic sensor would make pilots’ jobs easier if one or both of the Max’s mechanical angle-of-attack sensors fail. The device that monitors whether an aircraft is pointing up or down with respect to the oncoming air malfunctioned in both crashes – the first off the coast of Indonesia in October 2018 and the second five months later in Ethiopia.
“We think that overall it is a good development that increases the level of security,” said Ky. “It is currently unavailable and will be available at the same time that the Max 10 certification is expected.”
The Max episode put a strain on the relationship between the FAA and global aviation authorities, including EASA, which acted faster to oversee the jet and made demands beyond U.S. requirements to clarify its return. Ky said the relationship between the European agency, the home regulator of Boeing rival Airbus SE, and its U.S. counterpart needs to be rebuilt in a way that increases safety without slowing progress.
“The Max accident was a tragedy for the FAA,” he said. “In terms of the way they play their own roles, how they have been attacked by various interest groups in the US, how they have been criticized, it must have been extremely difficult.”
The FAA’s relationship with Boeing has also shifted after the aircraft maker was accused of hiding changes that widened the differences between the Max and earlier 737 models in an attempt to reduce costs and minimize training needs.
“Ultimately,” said Ky, “we have great respect for the FAA’s technical expertise, we have great respect for our colleagues, and I would like to believe it is the same on their side.” . That is the really important foundation for the relationship to grow again. It has to be based on respect. “
Another question mark for the Max is China, where demand for aircraft was soaring ahead of this year’s coronavirus pandemic. China participated in some of the Max reviews but was not involved in the flight tests that included regulators from Canada and Brazil, as well as the FAA and EASA, Ky said. “I honestly don’t know where you are,” he said of her review.
A spokesman for the Chinese Civil Aviation Authority did not respond to a request for comment.
The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority will conduct its own security checks on the Ethiopian Airlines Group’s Max fleet, whose planes suffered the second fatal crash, Amdye Ayalew Fanta, the government’s chief investigator, said on Friday by phone.
The African nation is trying to produce a lengthy report on the fatal crash that killed all 157 people on board the plane by March, its second anniversary.
While Ky’s comments are positive for Boeing and suppliers like Safran SA and Spririt AeroSysems Holdings Inc., the aircraft manufacturer “still has a mammoth task ahead,” said Jeremy Bragg, an analyst at Redburn.
In addition to getting the plane back into service, Boeing will also need to run down inventory of around 450 Max jets that have been built but are waiting to be shipped to customers, he said. “This has to be achieved against the background of very weak underlying demand due to Covid-19, which will almost inevitably lead to very weak pricing of the Max in the next few years.”
As the Max saga ends, EASA is working with other regulators to apply the lessons learned to future certifications. One area has to do with the valuation of derivative models like the Max, which are screwing modern technology onto older platforms. The challenge is finding the right balance and making sure the pilots have the knowledge they need to fly the planes safely, he said.
A new derivative is Boeing’s 777X, the next version of its 25-year-old wide-body with folding wings. Like many Boeing aircraft, it has two angle of attack sensors (Airbus jets have three or more). While discussing the Max, Ky said the important question if one of two AOA sensors should fail is the impact it has on the safety of the aircraft.
While the 777X does not have the maneuverability enhancement system that played a role in the Max crashes, Kylie said EASA will closely examine the flight control systems of the new 777 as part of its review and analyze possible sources of error.
Whether this would slow down the European approval process for the general public: “It depends a lot on Boeing’s ability to give us the right solutions and the right analysis for risk assessment,” he said. “There can be other problems; We’re really looking at this new aircraft and making sure our and Boeing’s safety assessment is properly conducted and that no questions go unanswered. “
Here are some of Ky’s comments on other topics, including drones, new software, and technologies like hydrogen propulsion:
- EASA will not require changes to previous generations of the Boeing 737 jet such as the NG unless these are relevant. So far, none of the changes that regulators have requested for the Max apply
- The European Agency builds up expertise in future technologies, software and drive systems. The certification of drones is a challenge, as many manufacturers do not come from the aviation industry and have “a completely different development process”.
- Some aviation software is developed using security standards from the 1980s. Non-aviation companies working on autonomous flight, for example, may take an approach that “actually creates more robust software than we certify” by using the existing process. EASA is investing to build regulators’ expertise in assessing technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning
- EASA begins to work with the European Space Agency to develop know-how around hydrogen propulsion, which is used in spacecraft. “Technically, it’s not that difficult from a pure propulsion standpoint. What is much more difficult is the storage of the fuel on board this aircraft. “
(Updates with Boeing shares in the seventh paragraph, China response in the 17th, comment from the Ethiopian authorities in the 18th)
–With support from Simon Marks and Tony Robinson.