Foreign Aviation Agencies to Put Boeing’s Next Jet Under Increased Scrutiny: Reports

November 28, 2019 Updated: November 28, 2019

Amid the fallout from the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX jetliner, foreign aviation regulators plan to put the U.S. plane-maker’s next production aircraft under increased scrutiny.

Multiple reports indicate that, in a sign of decreased confidence in the airworthiness certification process run by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), regulators from Europe and the Middle East will carry out separate reviews. That’s a break from past practice with European regulators, in particular, as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has relied on FAA approvals of Boeing jets and, for the most part, rubber-stamped them without its own inspections.

Boeing 737 MAX 9 airliner
The first Boeing 737 MAX 9 airliner at the company’s factory in Renton, Washington, on March 7, 2017. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

EASA was cited by The Telegraph as saying it wasn’t planning on creating its own comprehensive certification program, only that it would review the processes used by the FAA and Boeing related to a number of specific systems and in the context of “sensitive issues usually associated with an accident or incident.”

The European agency said it would perform “concurrent validation” of the FAA’s certification of Boeing’s 777X, which is understood to be a new version of the current wide-body jet.

“Following the lessons learned from the ongoing review of the 737 MAX, we have adjusted our level of involvement,” EASA said, referring to two crashes of the jetliner that killed 346 people. Following one of the incidents, which involved Ethiopian Airlines, EASA grounded Boeing’s planes in March, saying it was “suspending all flight operations of all Boeing Model 737-8 MAX and 737-9 MAX aeroplanes in Europe.”

Aerial photos showing Boeing 737 Max airplanes parked at Boeing Field in Seattle, Wash., on Oct. 20, 2019. (Gary He/Reuters)

Also, the Emirati General Civil Aviation Authority plans to scrutinize the certification process of the 777X separately from the FAA, The Wall Street Journal reported, according to people familiar with the matter. The Gulf state’s Emirates airline is expected to be the first to fly the 777X.

Boeing was cited by The Telegraph as saying, “We remain fully focused on safety as our highest priority as we subject the 777X to a rigorous test program.”

Stress Test Splits 777X Fuselage

During a recent stress test, the fuselage of the 777X was split by a high-pressure rupture, just as it approached its target stress level during a test in early September, Boeing said on Nov. 27. The test showed that the aircraft was only 1 percent short of meeting the requirements.

“A testing issue occurred during the final minutes of the test, at approximately 99 percent of the final test loads, and involved a depressurization of the aft fuselage,” Boeing said.

During the final load testing of the 777X test airplane, engineers ran a test that involved flexing the aircraft’s wings beyond what’s expected during normal commercial service, Boeing said.

Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked at Boeing Field in Seattle, Wash., on Oct. 20, 2019. (Gary He/File Photo/Reuters)

New Snag in Returning 737 MAX to Service

In another hurdle for Boeing, federal aviation inspectors will now be checking and signing off on each and every 737 MAX aircraft before delivery to a customer.

In a letter on Nov. 26, the FAA said that it notified Boeing that for all new 737 MAX planes, the agency will be the only issuer of airworthiness certificates, which are necessary for a plane to be entered into service. Before the new rules, Boeing and the FAA had shared the role of issuing the certificates.

For Boeing, the move means resuming MAX flights will likely be a more cumbersome and drawn-out process than the plane-maker would have hoped. Boeing said earlier this month it expected the FAA would unground the 737 MAX planes around mid-December, even though it didn’t expect the agency to complete its review of revised training requirements until January.

The 737 MAX, Boeing’s best-selling plane, has been grounded worldwide since the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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