By Andy Pasztor
Europe's top air-safety regulator on Friday gave his most explicit support yet for pending software and hardware fixes to Boeing Co.'s troubled 737 MAX jets, paving the way for resumption of commercial flights as early as November.
Patrick Ky, head of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, told French aerospace reporters in Paris that his agency expects to follow the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's lead in ending MAX groundings likely in November, according to a report by Reuters.
The comments reiterated previous EASA signals offering a vote of confidence in the pending changes necessary to eventually end the grounding of the MAX fleet. But by mentioning a specific timetable and indicating European regulators at this juncture are satisfied with the proposed changes, Mr. Ky went further than he has before in supporting the international process under way. The changes also include finalizing new pilot-training requirements expected to entail some mandatory ground-simulator sessions.
Over the months, Mr. Ky and his team have been involved in a series of intense, behind-the-scenes disagreements and debates with FAA counterparts over details of the fixes and revised training activities. Earlier this year, U.S. government officials were concerned that European and Canadian regulators, who conducted their own separate test flights, could lag behind the U.S. by weeks or longer in authorizing resumption of MAX operations. Two of the jets suffered fatal crashes in less than five months that killed a total of 346 people, prompting global grounding of the fleet in March 2019.
The FAA and Boeing have said they are working closely together, as well as cooperating with relevant international regulatory agencies, to safely put the planes back in the air. So far U.S. government and industry officials, though, have refrained from publicly spelling out a projected timeline as specific as the one Mr. Ky unveiled Friday.
But American Airlines recently told its pilots enhanced MAX training was expected to start in November. Mr. Ky's comments follow completion of simulator testing by a group of international pilots to vet MAX fixes. Details of amended training procedures are expected to be released and put out for two weeks of public comment by FAA training experts in October. FAA chief Steve Dickson is expected to fly the revamped MAX next week, as part of industry and government efforts to alleviate safety worries by travelers.
If everything goes well, widespread flights of MAX jets in the U.S. and other areas could resume around the beginning of 2021, though Chinese approvals could take longer.
Write to Andy Pasztor at email@example.com