Europe’s top aviation regulator told Bloomberg that he’s satisfied that changes to Boeing's 737 MAX have made the plane safe enough to return at least to Europe's skies before the end of 2020.
Patrick Ky, head of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, told Bloomberg that the EASA is performing final document reviews ahead of a draft airworthiness directive it expects to issue next month.
The agency last month conducted test flights with a new software-based solution that includes a so-called synthetic sensor that helps pilots take over the plane when one or both of the aircraft’s mechanical angle-of-attack sensors on the MAX fails.
Problems with the sensors, which monitor whether a plane is pointed up or down relative to the oncoming air, are believed to be what caused two separate crashes that took 346 lives and prompted all 737 MAX planes to be grounded in March 2019.
“Our analysis is showing that this is safe, and the level of safety reached is high enough for us,” Ky told Bloomberg. “What we discussed with Boeing is the fact that with the third sensor, we could reach even higher safety levels.”
The announcement comes even though Boeing is yet to implement a software upgrade that the EASA has already demanded - an upgrade that could still be two years away.
“We think that it is overall a good development which will increase the level of safety,” Ky told Bloomberg. “It’s not available now and it will be available at the same time as the MAX 10 is expected to be certified.”
The green light for the MAX follows a damning 245-page report released last month by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that cited a “horrific culmination” of missteps by Boeing engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing management and “grossly insufficient” oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration are what led to the two fatal crashes of the 737 MAX.
While the FAA is further along than the EASA in its own review, it has not yet stated when it might give its own approval. FAA chief Steve Dickson flew the 737 MAX himself late last month and said he was “very comfortable” with the flight.
To be sure, the MAX groundings and the pandemic have taken their toll on Boeing's aviation business. The Chicago company this week said it booked no new orders last month and delivered 11 new planes, taking its year-to-date total to 98, compared to 302 last year and more than 560 in 2018.
Shares of Boeing were up 4.6% at $171.81 in trading on Friday. Through Thursday, they had lost half their value this year.