US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) boss Steve Dickson has once again refused to put a timeline on the Boeing 737 Max’s return to service, though he said a certification flight is likely to take place ‘within the next few weeks’.
Speaking to journalists in London on Thursday, Dickson said he would not clear the troubled aircraft, which was grounded last March following two crashes in which 346 people were killed, until he had flown the plane himself.
He went on to say he would fly the plane with his wife and family on board because it would send “a strong message of support for my workforce and for the integrity of the process, that I would fly the airplane and put my own family on it”.
“I think we owe that to the victims and their families,” he added, “to ensure that when the aircraft is put back in service that we are as diligent as we possibly can be.”
Boeing itself has said it expects the Max to return to the skies in July based on its own estimate, but Dickson said it was “not helpful” to put a specific timeline on the process.
“For Boeing’s part, what I have been encouraging is to not be making public announcements, and instead focus on complete and fulsome submissions of data and proposals,” he added.
Dickson said a number of issues with the 737 Max had already been resolved, but there are still concerns that needed to be addressed before a certification flight can take place.
These include a problem with flight deck displays and a warning light, but Dickson said he did not expect this to delay the process. However, he added the regulator recently discovered problem with the plane’s wiring that could potentially cause a short circuit and that Boeing had yet to submit proposals for resolving the issue.
The FAA has faced criticism in the wake of the two fatal 737 Max crashes, with US lawmakers saying they were given information that showed Boeing pressured the regulator to overrule engineers’ concerns over safety-critical issues.
During the same Congressional hearing in December, Dickson admitted the FAA made a mistake by not grounding the aircraft after the first crash – a Lion Air flight in Indonesia in October 2018 – despite knowing there was a risk of further accidents.
The FAA has also been accused of delegating a large amount of safety work relating to the 737 Max to Boeing itself. Dickson assured journalists the regulator is “not delegating anything in this process” but added it would continue to delegate safety work in the future – although the way in which it is done will change.
Boeing has suspended production on the 737 Max programme due to a backlog of deliveries that has formed in the wake of its grounding.
The manufacturer has been in discussions with its airline customers on compensation for the disruption and said in January that it expects the bill for the grounding to reach US$18 billion (£13.8 billion). The firm reported a US$636 million (£491 million) loss for 2019.