A summit meeting the FAA will hold on May 23 to discuss with other airworthiness authorities its safety analysis for the planned re-certification of the Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 is not part of the planned work of the 737 Max Joint Authorities Technical Review, which convenes on April 29.
Announcing the summit on April 25, the FAA said that it has scheduled the meeting “to provide participants the FAA’s safety analysis that will inform its decision to return the 737 Max fleet to service in the U.S. when it is made.” FAA airworthiness certification officials will be on hand to answer any questions from other countries’ regulators as they formulate their own decisions on when to allow 737 Max jets to fly again in their airspace, according to Bloomberg.
However, for several reasons, it appears unlikely that the May 23 meeting of regulators will advance to any appreciable extent the date when the 737 Max grounding is lifted in the U.S. and elsewhere. Many aerospace industry insiders—including Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, the two largest operators of 737 Max jets when all Maxes were grounded on March 13—now expect that the FAA and other regulators will not lift the commercial-flight ban before July. Senior executives of Southwest and American said as much in the two carriers’ first-quarter earnings conference calls, respectively held on April 25 and April 26.
One reason for this belief is that Boeing has not yet submitted to the FAA the formal proposal of software and hardware changes by which the manufacturer expects to mitigate the issue with the 737 Max Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which preliminary investigations suggest was a factor in the fatal crashes of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8s. Boeing originally said it expected to submit the MCAS fixes in April for FAA re-certification analysis, but by April 26 the FAA hadn’t yet received Boeing’s submission.
Another reason for a likely July re-certification date is that on April 23 the FAA said it expected the work of the nine-authority JATR—which will be scrutinizing the original FAA’s certification basis for the 737 Max models, not the planned re-certification—to take about 90 days from the time the review begins. At a minimum, the eight other airworthiness authorities involved in the JATR are unlikely to lift their flight bans on 737 Maxes until that work has ended. They may also be able to influence the FAA not to approve its re-certification of the Max models until the JATR concludes its work. Additionally, several regulators have indicated they will not automatically rubber-stamp the FAA’s 737 Max re-certification but will want to complete their own analyses before approving 737 Max flights in their airspace.