Boeing (BA) 737 MAX could soon take to the skies again after the European regulator signalled that the grounded plane could be allowed to fly before the end of the year.
After a few setbacks, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Patrick Ky, said that an overhaul of a faulty flight control system on the Max “had met the watchdog’s requirements.”
This means that the troubled jet can return to service in the EU by early December.
The UK aviation safety agency, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), delegated responsibility for airworthiness to the EASA and typically adopts its recommendations in full.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which received criticism for alleged oversights in allowing the plane to fly, is also close to recertifying the jet. FAA boss Steve Dickson piloted a test flight last month.
The MAX, which was banned in March 2019 following two fatal crashes that took the lives of 346 people, is nearing reauthorisation in the US and EU, the two key jurisdictions after a hosts of tests.
In September, the airline underwent a multi-agency nine-day review at Gatwick airport in London. Civil aviation authorities and airline flight crews from the US, EU, Canada and Brazil reviewed Boeing’s proposed training for 737 MAX flight crews.
On Sunday, American Airlines (AAL) said that it plans to return the jet to service for passenger flights by the end of 2020, depending on FAA certification of the aircraft. It said it will operate a daily 737 MAX flight between Miami and New York from 29 December to 4 January, with flights available for booking from 24 October.
“We remain in contact with the FAA and Boeing on the certification process and we’ll continue to update our plans based on when the aircraft is certified,” American Airlines group said in a statement.
Investigators revealed that a faulty flight control system known as MCAS contributed strongly to both crashes. MCAS, which is unique to the 737 MAX, was designed to automatically correct changes to the jet’s handling caused by its new, larger engines.
But, the system at times forcibly and repeatedly pushed down the 737 MAX’s nose against the pilot’s will. This flaw was linked to erroneous readings from an external “angle-of-attack” sensor, which indicates the angle of the plane relative to the oncoming airflow.
As a result, EASA and the FAA refused to allow the MAX to fly again until MCAS was repaired. The authorities agreed with Boeing to link to MCAS to the MAX’s second angle-of-attack sensor, rather than using one alone.
Additionally, EASA also instructed Boeing to install a third, software-based “synthetic” sensor within two years, to improve reliability.
“Our analysis is showing that this is safe, and the level of safety reached is high enough for us. With the third sensor, we could reach even higher safety levels. We think that it is overall a good development which will increase the level of safety,” Ky said in an interview with Bloomberg.
Boeing has been beleaguered with troubles following the grounding of its previous bestseller, the 737 MAX. Before the second MAX crash, Boeing received 5,000 orders for the aircraft, worth $600bn (£464.6bn).
The company swung to a $636m annual loss in January 2020 — its first loss in more than 20 years — Boeing put the total costs of the grounding at $19bn.
It also suspended new deliveries of the plane, following the biggest crisis in its 103-history. The US manufacturing giant also set aside a further $9.2bn to cover the costs of airlines that cancelled 737 MAX flights and towards higher higher costs related to compensation.
The crisis, led to the firing of chief executive Dennis Muilenburg, caused layoffs at suppliers and put Boeing behind rival Aribus (AIR.PA) in sales and deliveries of new jetliners.
Watch: Boeing 737 MAX deemed safe to fly again by European regulator