FAA Narrows Issues on MAX Ungrounding

FAA administrator Steve Dickson at Singapore Airshow 2020

FAA administrator Steve Dickson sounded a positive note on the Boeing 737 MAX recertification process, telling reporters at Singapore Airshow that the agency is “narrowing the issues.” 

A critical first step is a recertification flight.

“Everyone always asks, and my answer has been consistent,” he says. “We are following a diligent process and it’s important that we stay focused on process, not timeline.

“Having said that, we are approaching a certification flight that marks the next major milestone. Once completed, we’ll have more clarity on how the process moves forward.”

The certification flight has not been scheduled yet. The agency is waiting on Boeing for proposals on “a few outstanding items.”

Dickson said he has observed an improvement in the quality of information provided to the agency by Boeing in recent weeks, although he did not explicitly attribute the development to the recent leadership change at the Chicago-based manufacturer.

“We are seeing submissions that are more complete and more integrated in recent weeks. That said, there’s always going to be some back-and-forth dialogue with manufacturers. Even after the ungrounding, there may still be items related to continuing operational safety and product improvements as we go forward,” Dickson said.

The FAA chief dismissed suggestions of a growing rift between the FAA and international regulators, insisting that the agency is closely aligned with various world authorities on recertification – although he said that there could be slight variations between them regarding return-to-service timelines.

“We’ve had very close alignment with the other regulators. That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be robust debates from time to time – and we welcome that, just like we want that to happen within the FAA, frankly,” Dickson said.

“Every regulator has to apply the airplane to whatever the reality of their operations is, how sophisticated their carriers are and the competency of pilots. What we’re looking at is probably very close in time, although there may be some slight variation by markets.”

While declining to speculate on Boeing’s initial rate of production upon restarting its MAX assembly lines, Dickson noted that “almost everybody expects it to start up at a low rate.… You have to walk before you run.” He also declined to declare whether the FAA would endorse Boeing’s proposal to add mandatory simulator training for all MAX pilots. “We will evaluate that proposal,” he said, “but we don’t want to have our thumbs on the scale.”

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.