The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed this week that the grounded Boeing 737 Max is “approaching” a re-certification flight.
But there is still no date for the flight, no clarity on how long the aircraft will remain grounded and no indication of how soon other regulators, including those in Europe, will follow the FAA’s lead.
The 737 Max has been grounded since March 2019 following two fatal crashes in the previous five months.
FAA chief Steve Dickson confirmed this week: “We are approaching a certification flight.”
Once that is completed, he said: “We’ll have more clarity on how the process moves forward.”
However, the flight has not been scheduled, with the FAA saying it is awaiting Boeing’s responses on “a few outstanding items”.
Dickson also warned: “After the ungrounding, there may still be items related to continuing operational safety and product improvements.”
He insisted the FAA has “close alignment” with other aviation regulators but acknowledged there could be variations between certifying authorities on when the Max returns to service.
Dickson said: “There may be some slight variation by markets. Every regulator has to apply the airplane to the reality of their operations.”
He also downplayed expectations Boeing could quickly restart manufacturing the 737 Max when the aircraft returns to the skies. Boeing shut down production of the Max in December.
Dickson said: “Almost everybody expects it to start at a slow rate. You have to walk before you run.”
Tui reported this week that it had been forced to lease 34 aircraft to replace the grounded Max.
Chief executive Fritz Joussen said: “There will be compensation from Boeing – that is clear.
“But it will be a matter of mutual agreement – how much will be paid in cash, how much in future agreements, how much in credit agreements. It’s a little complicated.”
Norwegian Air also cited the grounded Max as a reason for the continued full-year losses at the carrier.
The airline reported a loss of NOK1.6 billion (€160 million) for 2019 this week despite substantial cost cutting.