Boeing’s 737 Max moved a step closer to be being recertified after Europe’s safety aviation regulator declared it is satisfied with new safety features.
The EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) indicated it could issue a draft airworthiness directive for the Max next month.
However, the grounded aircraft is unlikely to return to operation until next year.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has yet to recertify the Max following the exposure of systemic failures in its original certification of the aircraft.
The Max was grounded in March last year following two fatal crashes within five months in which 346 passengers and crew were killed.
An automated anti-stall system with multiple faults was implicated in both disasters.
Subsequent investigations found Boeing had attempted to conceal problems with the system and had misled airlines and pilots about the extent of the differences between systems on the Max and on previous 737s.
The FAA was found to be too close to Boeing and to have failed to make adequate safety checks in what amounted to a process of ‘self-certification’ by the manufacturer.
EASA revealed last month that it and the FAA had required Boeing link the Max’s anti-stall system, MCAS, to a second sensor rather than the single sensor it originally relied on.
Patrick Ky, EASA executive director, said: “Our analysis is showing this is safe, and the level of safety reached is high enough for us.”
However, he said EASA had instructed Boeing to install a third sensor on future models of the Max, saying: “With the third sensor, we would reach even higher safety levels.”
Development of a third sensor is expected to take up to two years.
Ky said: “It is overall a good development which will increase the level of safety. It’s not available now but it will be available at the time the Max 10 is expected to be certified.”
EASA’s issue of a draft airworthiness directive would be followed by a four-week consultation period.
The UK’s CAA is expected to accept the EASA certification.
The FAA issued draft proposals for 737 Max pilot training on October 6, incorporating recommendations from EASA and the aviation regulators of Canada and Brazil.
This is subject to a consultation ending in early November.
The FAA noted “several key milestones remain”, including a review of Boeing’s final design documentation, “continued airworthiness notification to the international community”, a rescinding of the grounding order and issue of airworthiness and export certificates.
The FAA has also to review and approve training programmes.
It also noted: “While our processes will inform other civil aviation authorities, they must take their own actions to return the Boeing 737 Max to service for their air carriers. “
The 737 Max was the most-successful new aircraft model ever launched by Boeing until the crashes, with orders for up to 5,000.
However, carriers have cancelled orders for more than 1,000 since the grounding.
Ky suggested in September that the Max might resume commercial service by the end of the year. However, he noted the national clearance required by airlines around Europe to resume flying the aircraft could take longer.
He also noted China was expected to take longer to give approval.
Ky revealed then that Boeing had agreed to install the third-sensor system on the next version of the aircraft, followed by retrofits on the rest of the fleet.
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