Regulators worldwide may recertify the Boeing 737 MAX jet for commercial service at different times, creating a staggered return of the plane and underscoring a lack of trust in the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an industry expert told China Daily.
In the past, overseas regulators have generally followed the lead of the FAA and accepted its findings, but that may change after crashes of MAX jets in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed a total of 346 passengers and crew.
Investigators have focused on the MAX’s anti-stall device that may have erroneously pointed the nose of the planes down to avoid a mid-air stall and into a fatal plunge.
“The FAA and its oversight by Congress resulted in destroying the reputation built on half a century of certification expertise,” James Hall, managing partner of Hall and Associates in Washington and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told China Daily.
“When the FAA failed to ground the aircraft after the first accident or immediately after the second — and everyone in aviation knew that had either accident happened in the US, the plane would have been grounded immediately — the FAA forfeited its leadership on aviation issues.”
China was the first to ground MAX jets. The US grounded the plane only after regulatory agencies around the world had done so.
Hall has been critical of the FAA’s use of manufacturer’s employees as part of the process to declare a plane safe. In an opinion article published in The New York Times, he called it a “worrying move toward industry self-certification.”
Patrick Ky of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency said the FAA’s worldwide reputation is in a “very difficult situation.”
“It’s likely that international authorities will want a second — or third — opinion,” he told CNN. “And (that) was not the case one year ago. I think that’s going to be a very strong change in the overall worldwide hierarchy or relationship between the different authorities.”
Some analysts said technological innovation in contemporary planes has outstripped the ability of regulators to keep up with advancements. They note that the FAA’s practice of relying on industry insiders is no different from the US Food and Drug Administration’s reliance on experts from the companies it regulates or state bar associations that certify attorneys and take disciplinary action when needed.
“I think it’s just concern on the part of some regulatory agencies that withdrew their airworthiness certificates before the FAA did,” Robert Mann, president of RW Mann and Co. in Port Washington, New York, told China Daily.
“It shows their comfort level is different from the FAA’s comfort level. I don’t see it as anything other than having a different point of view on how the aircraft is tested for recertification and how pilot training ought to be handled. For example, should regulators require use of flight simulators or is computer training enough?”
According to Yahoo Finance, Boeing is still finalizing updates to flight control software, which will be followed by a certification test flight. The MAX jet’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), the anti-stall system, has been implicated in the two crashes.
CEO Dennis Muilenburg has said he was targeting the September timeframe for the flight but on Wednesday declined to give a specific date. Federal officials say it may not occur until October and the FAA may not give the green light to resume flights until November.
Boeing and FAA pilots have been testing the updated software for months and the FAA is inviting regular 737 MAX line pilots to run tests as well.
Those tests must also be completed before the aircraft is approved for return to service, the FAA has said.