Lawmakers seek assurances over Boeing MAX before EU safety approval

A Boeing 737 MAX is towed toward the runway for a test flight near the company's factory in Renton, Washington, USA, 18 November 2020. [EPA-EFE / STEPHEN BRASHEAR]

Members of the European Parliament sought assurances on Monday (25 January) about the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX ahead of its re-approval to fly by the EU’s aviation safety agency (EASA).

The Boeing model was grounded in March 2019 following catastrophic crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that left 346 people dead.

The head of EASA, Patrick Ky, assured members of the European Parliament’s transport committee that the causes of the prior accidents were fully understood and that design changes to correct technical failures had been successfully implemented, calling the 737 MAX “one of the most documented aircrafts in the history of aviation”.

He said EASA had carried out an independent review of all safety components and would mandate that pilots receive appropriate training on operating the 737 MAX before they can schedule the plane for flight.

Boeing crash victim families denounce EU's upcoming MAX approval

The families of the victims of a deadly plane crash lodged a complaint with the EU’s aviation safety regulator on Tuesday (22 December), which is due to give the Boeing MAX aircraft permission to return to the sky in January.

Parliamentarians pressed Ky to explain EASA’s past reliance on the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), the US government agency charged with certifying aircraft safety.

The US aviation regulator has faced widespread criticism for its certification practices in light of the deadly Boeing 737 MAX crashes.

Until then, the EASA had tended to “reduce more and more” its involvement with aircraft that received certification from the FAA , Ky admitted.

“For the initial certification of the 737 MAX, we relied a lot on the FAA work and their judgement. It’s certainly a lesson learned that we need to build our own image of the safety critical components and to have our own review,” Ky told MEPs.

“Of course, given these tragedies, given what we have seen, we have stopped this trend and we will increase our level of involvement and our independent review of US projects in order to build our own safety assessment”.

“That’s what we intend to do in the future… It will be a great effort, but more reassuring for European citizens,” he added.

Ky assured MEPs that despite Boeing’s location in the US, the EASA is privy to “exactly the same level” of information as the FAA. Communicating the level of independence EASA has in carrying out checks is key to gaining the confidence of EU citizens, he said.

EU regulator to approve Boeing MAX's return in January

Europe is set to lift its flight ban on the Boeing 737 MAX passenger jetliner in January after US regulators last week ended a 20-month grounding triggered by two fatal crashes.

The aircraft is expected to be officially re-certified to return to Europe’s skies later this week. The move comes following an extensive, 20-month investigation into the technical issues present in the model.

The US aircraft has already been re-certified for use in the United States and Brazil.

MEPs also asked Ky about a new report by former Boeing manager Ed Pierson, which claims that changes made to the aircraft do not go far enough to fully solve safety issues.

The official responded saying that EASA is “looking into” the charges.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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