Boeing 737-7, -10 Certification Timelines Continue To Grow
FAA approval of the last two Boeing 737 MAX variants is “progressing,” a top Boeing official said, but ongoing challenges related to the agency’s more stringent approach to certification continue to lengthen the timelines.
“We do expect certification and delivery this year” of the 737-7, Boeing CFO Brian West said at a Bank of America investor event March 22. “We are working very, very closely with Southwest to make sure that we could help them with their fleet management and how that’s all going to play out for the course of this year. So, no specifics, but it’s progressing.”
Southwest, the largest 737-7 customer with 186 on order, once expected deliveries to start in early 2022. But the prolonged certification process has forced it to shift gears, removing the 737-7 from its 2023 network plan and keeping some older 737-700s once tagged for retirement in the process.
Southwest expects to need about six months following first deliveries to get the new aircraft into revenue service, citing required FAA approvals as the primary schedule driver.
Boeing, which steers clear of predicting when FAA approvals for any of its projects will come, wrapped up 737-7 certification flight testing in late 2021. The remaining issues focus on validating pilot-reaction assumptions Boeing has made as part of system safety assessments (SSAs), industry sources with knowledge of the situation told Aviation Week. Boeing has been working on the SSAs for months, in some cases following FAA’s direction to provide more information or revisions.
“They have to validate their assumptions about pilot responses,” one source with certification experience told Aviation Week, pointing to internal shortcomings as part of Boeing’s issues. “When they were developing the 777 [in the early 1990s], they were the gold standard. You asked for documentation of anything, and they had it for you in a heartbeat. Everything was organized and well documented. That’s no longer true, and that’s part of why they’re struggling right now.”
The 737-10, meanwhile, has not begun flight testing under FAA-granted type inspection authorization. Design changes, including some prompted by the 737 MAX’s grounding and global regulatory review, mean the 737-10’s certification is more complex than the smaller MAX versions.
At the company’s November 2022 investor day, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Stan Deal said 737-10 certification would come “in late 2023 or early 2024.”
West’s updated outlook has 737-10 certification and first delivery “likely next year,” he told BoA event attendees, seemingly taking 2023 off the table for both milestones.
Boeing’s recently filed 2022 annual report said the 737-10 will “begin FAA certification flight testing in 2023 with first delivery in 2024,” while the company expects 737-7 certification and first deliveries in 2023.
“We are working hand-in-hand with the FAA to get this done,” West said. “The lesson learned is that there is a difference of expectations as it pertains to certification of airplanes. It is the new reality.”
Meanwhile, Boeing’s 737 deliveries will climb in March compared to February’s 25, which included 24 737 MAXs.
“March will be higher,” West said. “Overall, our guidance of 400 to 450 737s for this year, we’re still committed to.” Boeing delivered 35 737s in January—all 737 MAXs.
In China, operators continue to re-activate 737 MAXs grounded since March 2019 due to two fatal accidents and, more recently, a lack of demand on the heels of the coronavirus pandemic. While the in-service fleet is coming back online—about 28 of 97 are flying, West said—the timing of new deliveries remains unclear.
“We stand ready to help our customers in China return those like 70 airplanes to service as traffic continues to grow in that market. That’s our first responsibility,” he said. “You could envision where as things play out ... You could see an event where at a point in time, there’s a return to delivery discussion.”
Boeing has about 140 737 MAXs in its inventory earmarked for Chinese customers.