London — Europe’s aviation safety regulator kicked off the process of bringing Boeing’s 737 MAX back into service, in a major step towards the grounded jet’s global return.

The EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published a proposed airworthiness directive on Tuesday, laying out changes required before the aircraft can return to service. The move triggers a 28-day public consultation, putting the MAX on track for final clearance by early 2021.

EU approval would mark a milestone in Boeing’s effort to return the jet to service outside the US, after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted final clearance last week. Backing by European regulators would help build global support for the aircraft, after the MAX crisis damaged the FAA’s reputation as the leader in air safety.

“I am confident that we have left no stone unturned in our assessment of the aircraft with its changed design approach,” Patrick Ky, EASA’s executive director, said in a statement. “The result was a thorough and comprehensive review of how this plane flies and what it is like for a pilot to fly the MAX, giving us the assurance that it is now safe to fly.”

Boeing rose 2.8% to $217.37 at 9.33am in New York amid broad market gains.

The EASA expects to issue the formal decision lifting the grounding in mid-January, it said in the statement. Ky had previously said in October that he was satisfied with the changes Boeing made to the plane after two crashes within five months killed 346 people, leading to the global grounding of the 737 MAX fleet in March 2019.

Boeing International president Michael Arthur heralded EASA’s decision as “great news” as he spoke at a conference in Berlin, saying that it marked the beginning of the end of the road to recertification. The plane is likely to be flying before the end of the year in the US, Arthur said.

Delivery restart

EU approval is needed for Boeing to begin delivering the plane to customers in the region, such as discount carrier Ryanair Holdings. The deliveries will help the US planemaker unlock about $12bn in cash that’s tied up in hundreds of jetliners built during the global grounding.

The EASA’s airworthiness directive requires nearly the same changes the FAA has mandated, differing in two areas, the regulator said in a statement. The EASA will allow pilots to disable a “stick shaker” warning if it has erroneously been activated, to prevent flight crews from being distracted, and will mandate that the plane’s autopilot system not be used for certain landings.

Transport Canada indicated last week that it is poised to lift the grounding soon. As long as the flying ban is in place in that country, US airlines can’t operate the upgraded 737 over Canadian air space.

Authorities in Europe, Canada and Brazil worked closely with US regulators to review the technical aspects of the MAX, which Stephen Dickson, administrator of the FAA, called the most scrutinised aircraft in history.



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