Steve Dickson, head of the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is “100 percent confident” in the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX, but says the plane’s manufacturer has more to do while working to improve its safety culture.
Dickson signed an order on Wednesday to allow the best-selling plane to resume flights after landing worldwide in March 2019, following accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people, including 18 Canadians, and led to the largest Boeing crisis in decades.
The order will end the longest run in commercial aviation history and pave the way for Boeing to resume commercial deliveries and flights in the United States by the end of the year.
“We did everything humanly possible to ensure that these types of accidents do not happen again,” Dickson told Reuters in a 30-minute telephone interview, noting that the changes to the project “eliminated what caused these particular accidents.”
The FAA is requiring new training to deal with a key security system called MCAS, which is responsible for two fatal accidents, as well as significant new protections and other software changes.
“I feel 100% confident,” said Dickson, a former airline pilot and military pilot, who took over as FAA administrator in August 2019 and took control of a 737 MAX test flight in September.
In a video message released on Wednesday, he said the 20-month review was “long and tiring, but we said from the beginning that we would take the time to do it right”.
Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that commercial flight restrictions for the operation of the 737 MAX aircraft in Canadian airspace will not be lifted until the government is satisfied that all of its safety concerns have been resolved and that procedures and Enhanced flight crew training is in place in Canada.
“Transport Canada security experts continue their independent validation process to determine whether to approve the proposed changes to the aircraft,” said Garneau in a statement. “We hope that this process will be completed soon. However, there will be differences between what the FAA approved today and what Canada will require of its operators. These differences will include additional procedures in the cockpit and pre-flight, as well as differences in training. “
‘Cultural changes take too long’
Dickson said he emphasized to Boeing the importance of safety. “I understand that they have a business to run, but they have nothing if they don’t have a safe product,” said Dickson.
Dickson suggested that Boeing has more to do to improve safety.
“They took some steps, but it will take more than putting new processes in place and moving the boxes through the organization chart. Cultural changes take a long time to take effect and we have to be skeptical, ”he said.
Boeing said it is “committed to learning from our mistakes to build a safer future so that accidents like this never happen again”.
The FAA has also come under harsh criticism over the 737 MAX certification. The US House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a measure to reform the FAA’s aircraft certification program.
Congressman Peter DeFazio, a Democrat who chairs the transport and infrastructure committee, said the FAA had failed to ensure the safety of the 737 MAX and called the aircraft’s certification “a broken system that has broken public confidence.”
Dickson acknowledged that there was fragmented communication within the FAA and between the FAA and Boeing during the 737 MAX certification. He noted that the agency is adopting certification reforms and improvements in response to external reviews of the 737 MAX certification.
The FAA could take further enforcement actions or issue new civil penalties against Boeing on the 737 MAX and other issues arising from a 2014 deal, but Dickson did not elaborate.
“It’s a matter of reviewing what Boeing’s actions have been up to this point,” said Dickson. “There will be more things we can talk about in the coming weeks and months.”
The MCAS, or Maneuver Characteristics Enhancement System, is designed to help stem the tendency for the 737 MAX’s nose to rise – known as pitch-up – and can be activated after data received from one of the two sensors.
Boeing said the inputs for both sensors on the MAX will be used after the updates, but the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has asked for a third synthetic sensor to provide independently calculated data. Dickson said the FAA will consider requiring this synthetic sensor in future versions of the 737 MAX, but has made no decision.
Dickson said he expected other international regulators to “complete their work in a relatively short period of time”.