no schedule for re-certifying Boeing 737 Max plane yet

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A Boeing 737 Max 9 test plane at the Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington on on March 22, 2019.

Stephen Brashear | Getty Images

There’s no schedule for re-certifying Boeing’s 737 Max and getting the plane back in the air, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) said on Thursday, after a day of discussions with aviation regulators from around the world.

“The last thing I want is to put a date out there for lifting the grounding,” said Dan Elwell, acting administrator for the FAA.

Elwell gave a fairly upbeat assessment of the dialogue between regulators during the day-long meeting at the FAA office in Fort Worth, Texas, where 57 industry leaders from 33 countries met two months after Boeing’s 737 Max was grounded.

The decision to ground the planes came after an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 plane crashed in March, minutes after take-off, killing all 157 people aboard. It was the second Max crash in less then six months.

In both accidents, investigators believe a contributing factor was the MCAS flight control system, which automatically pushes the plane’s nose down when data indicates the plane may stall.

“We appreciate the FAA’s leadership in taking this important step in bringing global regulators together to share information and discuss the safe return to service of the 737 MAX,” Boeing said in a statement after the FAA regulator meeting. “Once we have addressed the information requests from the FAA, we will be ready to schedule a certification test flight and submit final certification documentation.”

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Since the grounding, Boeing engineers have completed a software patch that has been evaluated over the course of more than 200 test flights of the 737 Max. While Boeing says its work on the software fix is complete, the company has yet to validate it through a re-certification flight, nor has the company said when it will file a formal application to have the plane re-certified.

“We wait for Boeing’s completed application,” Elwell said about Boeing’s Max re-certification. As for countries around the world that also grounded the Max, Elwell says “each country has to make its own decisions.”

Airlines are eager to see the Max return to their schedules as soon as possible given the pressure to add flights in order to meet strong demand for air travel. Southwest, United Airlines and American Airlines all have tentative plans to return the Max to their schedules in August.

At United’s annual meeting this week, CEO Oscar Munoz said he plans to be on the first 737 Max flight when the plane goes back in service. The CEOs of other airlines are expected to do the same as the industry works to restore public confidence in the Max and limit the number of passengers who will balk at getting on the plane.

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Elwell hopes that other countries will follow when the FAA lifts the grounding of the 737 Max in the U.S. “If that leads to a more global decision on the Max, that would be helpful,” said Elwell.

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