The US aviation regulator has admitted to not having a confirmed timeline for the Boeing 737 Max to return to service.
It is not possible to give an exact date as work progresses on safety fixes to the aircraft, a senior official at the Federal Aviation Authority was reported as saying yesterday.
The comments led to speculation that the new generation aircraft may not return to service until December.
The 737 Max has been grounded globally since March after two fatal crashes in five months in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Ali Bahrami, the FAA’s associate administrator for aviation safety, said that while the regulator was “under a lot of pressure,” the Max will be returned to service “when we believe it will be safe,” following reviews of the design, flight testing and other checks.
He was reluctant to provide a timeline, but when asked at an aviation safety conference in Cologne whether the aircraft would resume service this year or next, he said remarks by Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg projecting a return by the end of 2019 sounded correct, according to a Bloomberg report.
Knowing when the latest version of the 737 will fly again would help airlines contend with the disruption caused by the grounding.
The FAA has said that there is no time frame to sign off on Boeing’s proposed fix for the jet.
The European Aviation Safety Agency also is examining Boeing’s changes, a process that will not conclude until the end of July at the earliest, director Patrick Ky said in a separate interview.
The agency is considering whether to require additional simulator training for flying the Max, as well as potential design changes, he said.
Muilenburg said last week on CNBC that he expected that the Max would be back in the air by the end of the year.
Boeing is finalising a software fix for a flight-control system malfunction linked to the accidents involving Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines, as well as proposed new pilot training. A total of 346 people were killed in the two crashes.
Tui Airways and Norwegian are among European airlines affected. Ryanair also faces delivery delays for a fleet of 737 Max aircraft.