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B737 MAX back in the air? Not so fast... (amended)

Updated: 7 days ago

On the 18th November, FAA administrator, Steve Dickson, signed Rescission of Grounding in order to rescind the Order of Prohibition that was standing and as a result of which the US registered aircraft were grounded, following the grounding of the type elsewhere in the world almost two years ago.

In this post I would like to show that this is only the start of events to meet the conditions to get the 737 MAX back in the air and hopefully be as safe and successful as its predecessors; the 737 classic and NG versions.

Below the Signed Order Of Rescission, also available on the FAA website.

Download PD • 3.92MB

Please note that FAA was the last of the Civil Aviation Authorities to ground the type after the two fatal accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia respectively.

The first to ground the type were the Chinese CAAC, followed by the UK CAA and EASA subsequently.

The substantiation for the rescission of the grounding is below summary of certification amendments and other considerations for measures to enable the return to service of the type. Document titled 737_RTS_Summary.

FAA compiled this document in which is documented what considerations were made and exactly were the grounds for these measures.

The document is downloadable for interested readers and also available on the FAA website.

It contains Airworthiness and operational measures that were taken and ultimately resulted in the issue of the NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking), meant to gather public comments, preceding issue of the final rule which has also been issued with effective date November 20, 2020 .

Unfortunately this post is too short to, even briefly, summarise the various airworthiness aspects of the grounding and subsequent re-certification of the type. There are a few posts containing more technical data on this website in which the NPRM is reviewed and an other one reviewing the Airworthiness elements which also contains the official accident investigation report for Ethiopian Flight 302 and Lionair flight 610.

Download PDF • 3.22MB

Below is the AD for download for interested readers.

FAA went to great length to show the number of comments and replies from FAA. This alone reflects the critical attitude from the Aviation community towards the return to service for the type.

Some commenters even requested the FMEA (failure Mode and Effect Analysis) for review. This is a highly uncommon move and requires in-depth aeronautical knowledge and familiarity with the particular aeroplane design to interpret. This is indicative of the general mistrust of the commercial aeroplane certification process.

An abbreviated list of some commenters;

  • Families of Ethiopian Flight 302

  • Ethiopian Airlines Group

  • BALPA (Britisch Airline Pilots Association)

  • Turkish DGAC

  • UAE GCAA (Arab Emirates CAA)

  • ALPA (Allied Pilots Association)

  • NATCA (National Air Traffic Controllers Association

  • A4A (Airlines for America)

  • Boeing

  • SWAPA (Southwest Airlines Pilots Association)

  • Air China

  • Ameco (Chinese MRO)

  • Flyers Rights

  • Aerospace Safety and Security Inc.

Download PDF • 1.90MB

With Regards to the FAA conditionally (compliance with the actions stipulated in AD 2020-24-02) releasing the type for service, other Aviation authorities have not yet released the type of aircraft on their registry. Among them the Chinese CAAC and also EASA.

In fact, EASA went as far to explicitly not adopt AD 2020-24-02. Below is a explanatory note published by EASA.

Under FAA / EASA bilateral agreement (spelled out in the TIP), both regulatory agencies accept each others substantiation and validation data. This previously agreed practice seems not to be as rock solid as it has always been. Increasingly, foreign regulators being more critical and hands-on in certification and safety issues. This potentially complicates international Continuing Airworthiness Management.

Please also note that among other regulators, both ESA and CAAC have been involved in the Return to Service of the type.

2020-24-02 EASA decision
Download PDF • 514KB

Amendment 24-Nov-2020

EASA published today a "PAD" (Proposed Airworthiness Directive) for public consultation addressing additional actions before releasing the type for service.

This PAD; once in force, would be the gateway to service instead of AD 2020-24-02 which was not adopted by EASA. Only for EASA countries registered aircraft though!!

The PAD summarises the actions; both Operational as well as Airworthiness wise, conditions to release of the type. It also identifies where the EASA (Proposed) AD differs from, or is an addition to the FAA AD and where it conforms the FAA AD. This begs the question, that, in case of an export from FAA to EASA or vice versa, how these actions would be validated in both jurisdictions. To be continued....

Download PDF • 866KB

These two fatal accidents took the lives of nearly 350 unsuspecting people, consequently permanently affecting the lives of thousands left behind.

The commercial Aviation community must take a good hard look as to what went wrong and this is a good beginning, not only to get an aircraft back to the skies but to commercial air transport safety in a broader sense, which includes public trust in the industry

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