WASHINGTON — Federal Aviation Administrator Steve Dickson told his team to “take whatever time is needed” in their review of Boeing Co.’s 737 Max, reiterating that the path to approval is “not guided by a calendar or schedule,” according to a Nov. 14 memo and video message reviewed by Reuters.
The comments came days after Boeing said it expected the FAA to certify the 737 Max, issue an airworthiness directive and unground the plane in mid-December — a timetable that sent the planemaker’s stock price soaring on Monday.
Boeing also acknowledged on Monday that it would not win approval for training changes until January, pushing back the return of flights. Just three days earlier, Boeing abruptly scrapped the announcement it had planned on the Max.
U.S. officials have privately said this week that Boeing’s timetable was aggressive — if not unrealistic — and was not cleared in advance by regulators.
On Friday, Dickson sent a clear message that the FAA would make the decision on its own timetable on whether to unground the plane that was involved in two fatal crashes in five months killing 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
“This effort is not guided by a calendar or schedule,” Dickson wrote in the memo sent to Ali Bahrami, a top FAA safety official.
“I unequivocally support the dedicated professionals of the FAA in continuing to adhere to a data-driven methodical analysis, review and validation of the modified flight control systems and pilot training required to safely return the Max to commercial service.”
Boeing still must complete an audit of its software documentation before it can schedule a key certification test flight and faces other key milestones.
In a video message reviewed by Reuters and posted on YouTube on Friday, Dickson said: “I am not going to sign off on this aircraft until I fly it myself and I am satisfied that I would put my own family on it without a second thought.”
“I know there is a lot of pressure to return this aircraft to service quickly. But I want you to know, that I want you to take the time you need and focus solely on safety. I’ve got your back,” Dickson said. “The FAA fully controls the approval process.”
Boeing said on Friday it is working closely with the FAA and other regulatory authorities.
“With the rigorous scrutiny being applied, we are confident the Max will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly,” the company added, noting the “FAA and other regulatory authorities will determine the timing of certification and return to commercial service.” Earlier, United Airlines Holdings Inc. joined other U.S. airlines that operate the 737 Max in removing the aircraft from its flying schedule until early March, 2020, nearly a year since the grounding.
Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson.