U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dixon said the Boeing 737 Max was “100 percent confident” in safety, but said more needed to be done as the aircraft manufacturer worked to improve its safety culture.
Dixon on Wednesday signed off on resuming flights after the plane crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing 346 people, including 18 Canadians, and after Boeing’s global grounding in March 2019, which led to its biggest crisis in decades.
The order marks the end of a long grind in commercial aviation history and paves the way for Boeing to resume US deliveries and commercial flights this year.
“We did everything we could manually to prevent these types of crashes from happening again,” Dixon told Reuters in a 30-minute telephone interview, adding that the design changes “removed the ones that caused these particular accidents.”
The FAA needed new training to deal with a key security system called MCAS, which led to two fatal crashes, as well as significant new security and other software changes.
“I ‘m 100 percent confident,” said Dixon, a former airline and military pilot who took over as FAA administrator in August 2019 and took control of the 737 MAX test aircraft in September.
In a video message released Wednesday, he said the 20-month review was “long and laborious, but we said from the beginning that it would take the time needed to get this right.”
Canadian Transport Minister Mark Guernsey has said that commercial flight restrictions on the operation of 737 MAX aircraft in Canadian airspace will not be lifted until the government is satisfied that all of its security issues have been resolved, and that better flight crew policies and training are in place in Canada.
“Transportation Canada safety experts are continuing their independent certification process to determine whether to accept the proposed changes to the aircraft,” Garnio said in a statement. “We hope the process will end soon. However, there will be differences between what’s FAA approved today and what Canada requires of its operators. These differences include additional procedures on flight deck and pre – flight. Differences in training.”
‘Cultural change takes time’
Dixon said he emphasized the importance of safety to Boeing. “I understand they have business to run, but they have nothing if they don’t have a safe product,” Dixon said.
Dixon suggested that Boeing should do more to improve security.
“They have taken some action, but it’s going to take more than putting new processes and moving boxes around the company chart. Cultural changes take a long time to take effect and we have to be skeptical,” he said.
Boeing said it was “committed to learning from our mistakes to build a safer future, so that such accidents do not happen again.”
To consolidate security responsibilities across the company, Boeing said it has a new product and service safety division with more than 50,000 engineers in a single company.
“We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to bring aircraft back into service worldwide,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Stan Deal said in a statement.
The FAA has also been sharply critical of the certification of the 737 MAX. The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a reform of the FAA’s flight certification program.
Peter Defazio, Democrat Republican, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the FAA had failed to properly verify the safety of the 737 MAX and that flight certification was a “broken system that broke public trust.”
Dixon noted that during the 737 MAX certification there was broken communication within the FAA and between the FAA and Boeing. He noted that the agency is pursuing certification reforms and improvements in response to external reviews of the 737 MAX certification.
The FAA could take new enforcement action or issue new civil penalties against Boeing on 737 MAX and other issues arising from the 2014 settlement agreement, but Dixon did not elaborate.
“Our review of what Boeing has done so far is under review,” Dixon said. “There’s a lot we can talk about in the coming weeks and months.”
The MCAS, or Maneuver Characteristics augmentation system, is designed to help combat the nose-raising trend of the 737 MAX – called pitch-up – and it can be activated after data from one of the two sensors.
Boeing said inputs from the two sensors in the MAX would be used after the upgrades, while the European Union Aviation Safety Agency called for a third synthetic sensor to provide independently computed data. Dixon said the FAA would consider the need for synthetic sensors in future 737 MAX versions, but made no decisions.
Dixon said he hoped other international regulators would “get their work done in a short period of time.”