‘Very methodical’: US aviation regulator promises to get tough

US Federal Aviation Authority is still smarting from criticism over its role in two fatal crashes of 737 MAX planes.

Boeing 777X aircraft (Bloomberg)
The US Federal Aviation Authority's head, Tom Dickson, has promised to ensure that systems on Boeing's upcoming 777X plane are 'effectively integrated across the entire product' following criticism of its certification of the grounded 737 MAX [File: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg]

The head of the United States‘s aviation regulator reaffirmed that the agency’s review of the grounded Boeing 737 MAX plane would not be rushed, while also ensuring that certification of the planemaker’s upcoming 777X long-range, wide-body jet is conducted rigorously.

Problems with a number of aircraft models have led some airlines to accuse plane and engine makers of over-promising on performance capabilities, while the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX after two fatal crashes has increased scrutiny of testing and certification.

The comments from Steve Dickson, administrator of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), came a day after Emirates – Boeing’s largest 777X customer – demanded that the aircraft be tested for at least 16 months to ensure it is safe to fly and meets performance expectations.

“I did meet with Emirates and we had excellent dialogue,” he said at the Dubai Airshow when asked if the 777X’ certification would be tougher in light of recent events.

“Perhaps there will be more emphasis on making sure that the systems, as they evolve, are effectively integrated across the entire product and that we are not looking at issues in a fragmented fashion.”

On Tuesday, Emirates President Tim Clark said of the 777X: “We need to be absolutely sure that as she comes together, as she starts flying, everything is done in a manner that it should be done.” 

“I want one aircraft to go through hell on earth, basically to make sure it all works,” he added.

On the continuing review of the 737 MAX, Dickson last week said his team would take “whatever time is needed”, having previously pledged a data-driven methodical analysis, review and validation of the systems and pilot training required to safely return the MAX to commercial service.

Dickson reiterated on Wednesday that the FAA was not following any timeline for the model’s return to service, adding that time pressure cannot influence the regulatory process.

“We are going to make sure we are very methodical and very diligent. We are not delegating anything,” he told reporters at an airshow briefing.

Boeing has said it expects the FAA to issue an order approving the MAX’s return to service next month, with pilot-training requirements for commercial flights to be granted in January. 

Boeing and the FAA are grappling to contain a crisis in the wake of two 737 MAX crashes that left 346 people dead, forced airlines to ground more than 300 aircraft, and put on hold Boeing deliveries worth more than $500bn.

Meanwhile, Emirates agreed to buy its first Boeing 787 Dreamliners in a last-minute, $9bn deal at the Dubai Airshow on Wednesday while reducing its order for the delayed 777X model.

The deal for 30 787-9 Dreamliners is part of a $25bn shake-up of the airline’s fleet involving overhauls of orders from Boeing and Airbus. Emirates is reshaping its fleet to prepare for the demise of the soon-to-be-scrapped Airbus A380.

Emirates, the launch of customer for the 777X, will now take 126 of the jets, down from a planned 150, after tense negotiations on a parallel 787 deal that at one stage looked set to elude Boeing.

Emirates and Boeing announced the order on day four of the Middle East’s biggest aerospace event after lawyers put finishing touches to the deal the same morning.

Source: Reuters