By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dan Elwell, the No. 2 official at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who oversaw the agency during the initial phase of the Boeing 737 MAX crisis, plans to step down, he told Reuters.
Deputy FAA Administrator Elwell, who was acting administrator from January 2018 through August 2019, made the decision in March 2019 to ground Boeing Co's <BA.N> 737 MAX after the second fatal crash in five months.
"It's looking very, very likely that the MAX is at the end of its travails," Elwell said in an interview. "We're getting to the latter steps." An FAA spokeswoman said Elwell plans to leave near the end of November.
FAA officials speaking on the condition of anonymity previously told Reuters the agency could unground the plane around mid-November, but Elwell emphasized again the agency does not have a specific timetable to unground the MAX.
"I am confident the job will get done," Elwell said. "That's a good time for me to go."
Elwell said the agency has spent thousands of hours intensively scrutinizing the MAX. The FAA is requiring new significant safeguards and simulator training before it allows the plane to resume commercial flights.
"I have absolutely not one molecule of doubt that this airplane will come back into service. We have crossed every t, dotted every i," Elwell said. "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it will be as safe or safer than any airplane in service today."
Some critics said the FAA should have moved faster to ground the MAX, which came behind most other aviation regulators. Elwell has defended the grounding decision as one based on a review of available data.
Elwell had planned to leave about a year ago, but the 737 MAX review ended up lasting longer than initially expected.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said Elwell's "steady hand, determination, and expertise over the past three years have helped improve aviation safety, address future challenges, and increase aviation safety standards around the world."
Elwell has been involved with the White House coronavirus task force as the FAA representative and part of an international working group on the safe resumption of international air travel.
The international group is working on new detailed guidance to countries on testing, quarantines and other measures.
"We can’t create a regime for the whole world," Elwell said, saying individual countries will have to reach agreements on how to resume travel.
The goal is to facilitate "safe and healthy international travel" and give "confidence to the traveling public that travel is possible."
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)