Boeing 737 Max Poised to Win Clearance for European Return
The Boeing Co. 737 Max airplane taxis after landing during a test flight in Seattle, Washington, U.S. (Photographer: Chona Kasinger/Bloomberg)

Boeing 737 Max Poised to Win Clearance for European Return

Europe’s aviation safety regulator is poised to clear the Boeing Co. 737 Max for a return to service in the region, marking a major step in the jet’s global comeback from two deadly crashes.

The final airworthiness directive will be issued next week, spelling out required changes and added pilot training requirements, European Union Aviation Safety Agency Executive Director Patrick Ky said Tuesday in an online roundtable with reporters.

“We believe we know what happened in the Max accidents,” Ky said. “We are confident that the safety criteria has been met.”

Airlines in the U.S. and Brazil began to restart commercial flights with the Max late last year, after regulators there cleared the jet’s return.

Gaining EASA’s blessing for the Max would open another major market, while helping to build global support for the revamped jet after the crisis around the single-aisle workhorse dented the standing of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration as the leader in air safety.

Boeing gained 2.5% to $209.44 at 9:46 a.m. in New York. The stock had tumbled 38% in the 12 months through Jan. 15, the sharpest decline on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Air Lease, Ryanair

Some big Max customers are looking to EASA and a handful of other important regulators before making decisions on future purchases.

Air Lease Corp. Chairman Steven Udvar-Hazy said Monday that he is considering reinstating some previously canceled Max orders, though not until more regulators clear the jet’s return. He cited Europe, Russia and Canada -- which is set to approve the Max on Jan. 20 -- as well as China, which he called a “question mark” complicated by the U.S. presidential transition.

The U.K. will have to separately recertify the Max as it is no longer a member of EASA since completing its exit from the EU on Dec. 31. Ky said that EASA expects to find a good way of working with the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority, and while there won’t be automatic recognition of certification by the agency, a bilateral agreement on air safety will allow the two agencies to work closely together.

Ky said in October that he was satisfied with the changes Boeing made to the plane after two crashes within five months killed 346 people. The second disaster, in Ethiopia, led to a worldwide grounding of the 737 Max fleet in March 2019.

His agency pushed for the addition of a so-called synthetic angle-of-attack sensor -- the Max only has two physical ones, while Airbus SE jets have three or more -- but Ky said Tuesday that adding a third would have been difficult. Instead, software is being developed for the Max that combines other readings on the plane to mimic an actual AOA sensor’s measurement of the angle of the plane against oncoming wind. The virtual sensor will debut on the larger Max 10 variant which hasn’t yet been certified.

EASA will also instruct pilots on how to disengage the so-called stick-shaker alarm that shakes the control column violently in an emergency. European and Canadian regulators have raised questions about whether it could distract pilots and make their job harder.

The biggest Max customers in Europe include tour operator TUI AG and discount carrier Ryanair Holdings Plc, which will fly a specialized version of the Max that requires a separate approval.

Ryanair will be able to start flying its new jets, dubbed the Max 200 because of their extra seating capacity, within weeks, Ky said.

The Irish discount carrier placed an order for an additional 75 Max jets in December, taking its total backlog to 210 planes, with about 50 due for delivery by the end of this year.

This month, Boeing reached a $2.5 billion agreement to settle a criminal charge that it defrauded the U.S. government by concealing information about the model. While carriers such as American Airlines Group Inc. and Brazil’s Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA have already begun commercial services.

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