Since March banned from flying after two crashes in less than five months, the Boeing 737 MAX is likely to resume operations in Europe during the first quarter of 2020, said Patrick Ky, director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
In an interview with Reuters, Ky said he hopes to approve the return of the 737 MAX in the European market by January next year. The EASA director, however, estimated that the actual resumption of aircraft for commercial services could still take another two months, which is time needed for each country’s aviation authorities and airlines to prepare for the jet’s return.
“If there are training requirements (and) coordination to be done with the EU member states to make sure everyone does the same thing at the same time, this will take a bit of time,” Ky said. “That’s why I’m saying the first quarter of 2020.”
Boeing is running out of time to return the 737 MAX to service by the end of 2019, after making changes to the MCAS flight maneuvering software. Malfunction of the system is cited as the leading cause of accidents with aircraft from Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines, which together took the lives of 346 people and forced the MAX series to be grounded worldwide.
In addition to damaging Boeing’s image, the grounding of the 737 MAX has also severely affected airlines that bought the aircraft in the hope of boosting revenue. Low-cost company Ryanair, one of the largest customers in the MAX series, said this week it expects additional delays in aircraft deliveries and also lowered its growth estimates for 2020.
Nearly 400 737 MAX jets (MAX 8 and MAX 9 models) from 59 airlines are stocked worldwide and more than 500 finished aircraft occupy the yards of Boeing’s Seattle plant and airports in Washington state.
EASA also plans to run its own 737 MAX verification program with specifications other than those required by the FAA, the US civil aviation agency that certified Boeing’s commercial jet in 2016.
European experts visited Rockwell Collins’ facilities in Iowa last week to start an audit of a “fairly final” version of MCAS, said the EASA director – Rockwell Collins developed the flight control software used in the 737. MAX
“There has been a lot of work done on the design of the software,” Ky said. But he added: “We think there is still some work to be done.”
In addition to the dilemma with the 737 MAX, Boeing has also been in trouble with the 777-9, the first modernized variant of the 777X series. The widebody has a delayed development program and should only go into operation by mid-2021 under the most optimistic assumption.
One of the jet’s customers, Singapore Airlines told Flight Global that it expects the aircraft only in 2022.