Boeing’s 737 Max has taken a step closer to a return to the skies after the European regulator signalled that the grounded plane could be allowed to fly before the end of the year.
The 737 Max model, previously Boeing’s bestseller, has been inching towards reauthorisation in the US and EU, the two key jurisdictions, after being banned from flying around the world in March 2019 following two fatal crashes.
Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (Easa), said the 737 Max had reached its required safety standards after changes to its systems, in an interview with Bloomberg News.
Approval for the model would mark a key milestone for Boeing, unblocking one of its most important earners as it struggles with the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused widespread disruption in the aviation industry. Boeing shares rose by 5% in early trading, before retreating to a 3% gain at midday on Wall Street, at just under $170 per share.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), criticised for alleged oversights in allowing the plane to fly, is also close to recertifying the 737 Max. FAA boss Steve Dickson personally piloted a test flight last month.
Although every jurisdiction around the world has the power of approving planes to fly, in practice, most take their lead from US and European regulators.
Air accident investigators found that faulty sensors contributed to the two fatal crashes when an anti-stall system forced the nose of the planes down shortly after takeoff. The crashes killed a a total of 346 people on an Lion Air flight in Indonesia in October 2018 and an Ethopian Airlines plane in March 2019.
Easa said Boeing would have to introduce a software-based sensor to complement the two physical sensors on the next version of the plane, the Max 10, but that the regulator was satisfied that the most recent version was safe enough to fly as well.
“Our analysis is showing that this is safe, and the level of safety reached is high enough for us,” Ky said. “What we discussed with Boeing is the fact that with the third sensor, we could reach even higher safety levels.”
In an emailed statement, Easa said it was “currently in the process of reviewing the final documents” in relation to the plane. It would then go to public consultation for four weeks, Bloomberg reported.
Regulatory approval of the 737 Max would mark a key milestone for Boeing, the US’s largest manufacturing company. The grounding of its most popular plane had already plunged it into crisis, eventually costing Dennis Muilenberg his job as chief executive.
The coronavirus pandemic caused an unprecedented slowdown in global aviation, which has prompted airlines around the world to cut back their orders. Boeing is axeing more than 16,000 jobs as it tries to reduce costs in response.
A Boeing spokeswoman said: “We continue to work closely with global regulators on the rigorous process to recertify the 737 Max and safely return the aeroplane to commercial service. We are committed to addressing the regulators’ questions and meeting all certification and regulatory requirements.”