Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, the US. Picture: REUTERS/LINDSEY WASSON
Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, the US. Picture: REUTERS/LINDSEY WASSON

Washington/Paris — After a standoff with global regulators, management turmoil and a huge safety review, Boeing is set to win US approval on Wednesday to resume flights of its grounded 737 Max.

But the largest US planemaker faces headwinds from the coronavirus and new European tariffs as it scrambles to return the best-selling jet to service.

Reuters first reported on November 9 that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was in the final stages of reviewing proposed Max changes and was set to lift its grounding order as early as Wednesday. Other global regulators are also moving closer to decisions on allowing the jetliner to resume flights.

A group of relatives of Max crash victims and some Democrats in the US House of Representatives have urged the FAA to disclose key supporting data in its examination of the plane.

The FAA is requiring new training to deal with a key safety system called MCAS, which has been tied to the two fatal crashes that killed 346 people and led to the aircraft’s grounding in March 2019. It is also requiring new safeguards to MCAS and other software changes.

FAA deputy administrator Dan Elwell, who made the US decision to ground the plane, told Reuters in October that he had “absolutely no doubt in my mind that it will be as safe as, or safer than, any airplane in service today”.

In December 2019, Boeing’s board forced out prior CEO Dennis Muilenburg after he received a rebuke from FAA administrator Steve Dickson. At the time, the FAA said Boeing was pursuing an unrealistic schedule for the return to service.

On October 28, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun told CNBC the Max review was nearing the finish line. “I am very proud of that airplane,” Calhoun said. “It is a remarkable machine and as safe as anything in the air.”

Last week, in a long-running transatlantic subsidy spat, the EU imposed tariffs on up to $4bn of annual US imports, including Boeing jets. Leasing companies warned that the tariffs would hamper the reintegration of the Max in Europe, a key market. Ireland’s Ryanair said it would expect Boeing to absorb the cost of the tariffs, which mirror US duties on imports of Airbus jets and other European goods.

After the FAA green light, airlines must complete software updates and fresh pilot training, a process that will take at least 30 days, before the aircraft can return to the skies.

The FAA said it would not delegate its authority to issue airworthiness certificates and export certificates for the 450 737 Max airplanes built since the grounding, and plans in-person, individual inspections. Those could take a year or more to complete.

Southwest Airlines, the world’s largest Max operator, has said it would take several months to comply with the FAA requirements and it does not plan to schedule flights on the aircraft until the second quarter of 2021.



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