Aviation executives are increasingly worried that a widening split between the US and Europe will extend the grounding of Boeing’s 737-Max jet, sowing confusion and fear as regulators work to approve the resumption of commercial flights after two deadly crashes.
Sounding the alarm this week over the increasingly tenuous alliance were Aengus Kelly, who heads the largest global jet lessor, and United Airlines boss Oscar Munoz.
Alexandre de Juniac, who heads global airline trade group IATA, said he was “worried and disappointed” by the lack of unity among regulators. Aircraft-financing pioneer Steven Udvar-Hazy called it “uncharted territory”.
The regulatory discussions, which had been playing out behind closed doors, spilled into the open after the head of the EU Aviation Safety Agency said this week that his group is conducting its own study of Boeing’s design changes along with a broader review.
Under standard procedures used in past accidents, regulators would have delegated authority to the Federal Aviation Administration, which takes the lead in overseeing US-built jets.
“The challenge of the moment is certification,” said Mr Kelly, chief executive of Dublin-based AerCap Holdings. “When will this aeroplane be permitted to fly on a global basis?”
Boeing has said the Max is still on track to be cleared by US regulators early in the fourth quarter.
Southwest Airlines, the largest operator of the plane, thinks the go-ahead is likely to happen in early-to-mid November. Airlines will still need to make a range of preparations to ready the planes after they are approved to fly, and Southwest has removed the Max from its schedule through early January.
“We continue to work with the Federal Aviation Administration and global regulators on addressing their concerns in order to safely return the Max to service,” Boeing said.
The independent review is among four demands the Union Aviation Safety Agency spelled out in an April 1 letter to US regulators, weeks after flight-control software was linked to the second fatal Max accident in five months.
The agency’s objective is “to ensure that no similar weaknesses in the design are present in the other (safety critical) areas of the 737 Max design”, executive director Patrick Ky told a committee of the European Parliament this week.
Europe’s insistence on an independent review reflects an erosion of trust in the Federal Aviation Administration after officials signed off on a software system that went haywire on the Max because of a faulty sensor. The ‘manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system’ pushed the Max’s nose down in both crashes until pilots lost control. In total, 346 people died.
“Our first priority is safety, and we have set no time frame for when the work will be completed. Each government will make its own decision to return the aircraft to service based on a thorough safety assessment,” said the US agency.
Without co-ordination among regulators globally, the Max’s return to commercial service will be haphazard, Mr Kelly warned.
Operators will be forced to avoid the airspace of countries where the plane is banned. United’s Mr Munoz said airlines were proposing that “a coalition of regulators around the world go forth at the same time”.
Mr De Juniac, head of the International Air Transport Association, cited discord between the Federal Aviation Administration and its counterparts in Europe and Canada as particularly worrisome, saying aviation risks emerging from the Max crisis with a “patchwork of different systems” instead of the unified approach that has worked “fantastically” for years.
Source: Business News