Europe Expects to Take Longer Than U.S. to Decide 737 Return
Boeing Co. 737 Max airplanes are seen at the company’s manufacturing facility in Renton. (Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg)

Europe Expects to Take Longer Than U.S. to Decide 737 Return

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(Bloomberg) -- Europe’s top aviation regulator expects to take longer to get Boeing Co.’s 737 Max back into service than the projected timeline being taken by the U.S., which would likely push the grounded plane’s return into next year on the continent.

European Aviation Safety Agency chief Patrick Ky last week met with officials from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to say that the EASA decision will follow FAA’s, according to a person familiar with the talks. The person wasn’t authorized to speak about the meeting and asked not to be named.

Ky has made several statements in recent months indicating that Europe would likely trail the U.S. on the review of Boeing’s best-selling plane, though the tenor of his comments has ranged from optimism that it would closely mirror the FAA to indications it could take much longer.

He told Reuters that the his agency may follow the FAA by “a couple of weeks” and said any delay would “be due mostly to process or administrative technicalities.”

EASA spokeswoman Janet Northcote confirmed the delay Tuesday, saying its flight test will take place in December after FAA’s own testing. EASA will define the scope of its tests and use its own pilots and then has to present its findings to the national aviation authorities across Europe so that the jet can be cleared in each of its 32 member states’ airspaces.

While EASA May accept some certification work by FAA or other nations, it has been common for its pilots to conduct their own flight tests on planes under review. Northcote also said the “time between the two flight test campaigns (FAA and EASA) will be kept as minimal as possible.”

Europe Expects to Take Longer Than U.S. to Decide 737 Return

Working closely with other regulators around the world is “something that we absolutely need to keep doing,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said Tuesday in Washington, where he was interviewed at a conference.

“Our international engagement has continued to be very effective, I think,” Dickson said. The moderator of the interview didn’t ask him directly about EASA.

Without providing specifics, Dickson said the agency is also considering changes in the way it oversees aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing in the wake of the two 737 Max crashes and the grounding that has stretched for more than seven months.

The agency wants to improve how FAA and Boeing exchange information, Dickson said. A review of the plane’s certification issued on Oct. 11 said key aspects of the 737 Max design weren’t adequately communicated to FAA and that the information sometimes wasn’t shared within the agency.

FAA also needs to do a better job of assessing how the humans at the controls of the plane interact with complex systems, he said. “You can never completely engineer out human error,” he said.

In a statement reacting to EASA’s comments, the FAA said its “first priority is safety, and we have set no time frame for when the work will be completed. Each government will make its own decision to return the aircraft to service based on a thorough safety assessment.”

Boeing’s projections earlier this year that fixes it is designing for the plane -- involved in the two fatal crashes, off the coast of Indonesia and in Ethiopia, that killed 346 people -- would be completed by early in the fourth quarter have gradually slipped. While the timing remains fluid, the completion of the work and the FAA’s approval could be at the end of this year, or later if any glitches arise, said the person familiar with the process.

Boeing is altering a system that helped lead to the two crashes and is reworking the plane’s flight computer systems to make them more redundant following FAA’s safety review.

“We are committed to continuing to work closely with the FAA and global regulators on the safe return to service of the 737 Max,” Boeing said in an emailed statement on Monday night.

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