Tomorrow the US Will Try to Convince the World to Quickly Re-certify the Boeing 737 MAX

On Thursday, May 23rd the FAA is convening a meeting in Dallas with regulators from around the world. That’s what American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told the airline’s employees in his most recent Crew News question and answer session.

He explained “at that time the FAA is going to show the other regulators their views on the fix.” He says that the FAA “will be at least very close to re-certifying the aircraft, weeks not months.”

So they’re bringing together regulators from other countries “they’re doing that of course because they would like to see others come along.” However no one expects everyone to jump on board. And Parker says it’s political,

I believe they know – again I’m speaking for people I don’t know exactly what they’re gonna, politics do unfortunately get involved and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way it’s really important right now because of what’s happened it feel right to everyone so politics are important.

[The FAA is] hopeful that at least some other regulators will come to the same conclusion based on what they see and learn.

I know they know with relative certainty they won’t get everyone because politics are at play so there will be some parts of the world, I guess I should be fair to them, they may not come to the same conclusion. I think some of that will be because of their politics.

The purpose of the May 23 meeting, according to Parker, is “to really get to the point of showing the rest of the world we’re getting close to re-certifying and hopefully others will too.”

The FAA isn’t going to want to be the only one re-certifying the aircraft. Airlines and Boeing are going to want a united front with everyone – or nearly everyone – telling the world the aircraft is safe to fly.

However there are going to be some countries holding out. There may be genuine hold outs, with concerns over safety, and there may be some who either view it as politically advantageous to see continuing damage to a high profile American company like Boeing, or who see an opportunity to extract diplomatic concessions from the U.S. in exchange for participation. (There may also simply be some lack of trust in FAA and Boeing processes at this point, since the manufacturer’s designing and FAA’s signing off on something as significant as MCAS vulnerable to a single point of failure and making redundancy an optional add-on was clearly an error.)

It’s an open question how much worldwide support is enough for the FAA, which appears itself to be ready to give the MAX the green light to fly again, to make that decision public.

Parker doesn’t know the answer to that, offering “I don’t know what they will need to decide it’s a critical mass but that’s the plan, it would certainly be helpful to have more than just the FAA decide it should be recertified, the FAA understands that.”

However he believes that the aircraft is safe — and was even without any changes. In response to another pilot’s question he shared his belief that

[T]hat aircraft is airworthy, and was even after the Ethiopian accident…we have pilots who take the time to care first and foremost about safety and make certain they know everything the airplane that they’re in charge of that they know what it does and doesn’t do, they have great confidence in the other person in the cockpit with them that they’ve been through the exact our pilots, our training, our aircraft, that aircraft was airworthy even with the prior software.

He said “the aircraft will get back to flying” and “there will be efforts to assure the flying public that it’s safe..Boeing will be doing things, I imagine the FAA.. letting everyone know this aircraft is 100% safe.” And he said he’ll “be on it” when it’s re-certified and “you’ll be seeing things like us taking first flights.”

I do believe the aircraft is safe, but that Boeing made real errors in judgment and appears not to have executed production of the aircraft fully consistent with the specifications they certified to the FAA. Self-certification isn’t new, and the FAA seemingly can’t have enough expertise, but self-certification appears to have failed here.

The best versions of the aircraft and the best trained pilots likely make up for that, but the manufacturer had to face disasters to realize the built-in inadequacies as the plane is used across all carriers and settings. That’s a true shame, but one that will likely be rectified.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This will be interesting. No way is China going to re-certify this plane. Why would any country that’s worried about losing their trade advantages now that we have a strong, America First President?

  2. I can see several EU countries failing/delaying re-certification in an attempt to bolster the fortunes of Airbus at the expense of Boeing. And attempt to use it as leverage for relief from some current/future tariffs.

    I would simply point out to them: “The circle is round: What goes around, comes around”.

  3. He may have a valid point, but Doug Parker struggles to put a coherent sentence together. Whenever you quote him directly, it’s painful.

  4. Doug Parker: The problem was poor pilots. The plane was always airworthy even with the flawed software.
    Now that’s a convincing argument for re-certification. Nothing needs to change on Boeing’s end. The problem is the pilots.

  5. Nice write up. You spot my key issues

    The single point of failure – only one AofA plus warning I’d different reading was on option

    Fact the rear flaps (what’s the term?) moved more than Boeing certified

    And I don’t like the extent of Regulatory Capture of FAA by Boeing

    I agree plane should be safe, but let Dougie fly first

  6. Your parenthetical comment is the key point: The FAA and Boeing aren’t trusted on this issue. And they shouldn’t be. Before both disastrous crashes, they claimed the plane was safe enough to fly. And it wasn’t.

  7. Now we know Doug Parkers’s convincing argument for re-certificatiion.
    The 737 max was always safe even with the software flaw. The problem was “their”pilots. “Our” pilots are no problem.

  8. It would obviously be nice if some friendly countries re-certified the aircraft (and I suspect that will happen), but it would be foolish for the USA to wait for such support. The reality is that the plane is safe. There is widespread agreement in the industry that this is true. Fortunately, this is primarily a domestic aircraft and the US airlines do not really need foreign approval to get their planes back in the air. Once those airplanes are flying for a few months, I’m certain the foreign governments will cave.

  9. @ BRMM — seems pretty coherent to me as an impromptu comment. And a pretty good summary of where the MAX stands at the moment.

  10. I hope that Boeing understand that they can just close the doors if another max goes down FOR ANY REASON. What a great terrorist opportunity.

  11. My understanding is that, as a cost-saving measure, pilots were not trained on or even informed about the MCAS software.

  12. I think it’s a pretty good statement of where the Max stands right now.

    Boeing is certainly paying for its errors in judgement, no doubt about that.

    @Ajay, in the case if the Europeans I disagree in this specific instance… Airbus simply can’t gain from this right now because there is a years-long backlog of A320 production. No airline will cancel their 737 delivery slots for this year and wait 5 years to expand and take new A320s. Even Garuda, which foolishly threatened to do just that, backed down.

    No way China certifies this plane soon in the current geopolitical environment, but after a bit of noise and a few more weeks I would expect the Europeans to go ahead and re-certify.

  13. It is terrible shameful that there was loss of life associated with this aircraft. If they can prove the plane is ready to fly then they wouldn’t be putting it in the sky. The last thing Boeing and the MAX can have is another crash. Another crash would doom the MAX.

    Like Trump said, they should also rebrand the plane.

  14. More hype, spin and lame efforts to ‘circle the wagons’ to protect Boeing.( and AA’s interests).From the very beginning there has been every effort to blame the lousy third world pilots while minimising the egregious, outrageous failings of Boeing and the FAA. Boeing was once the must trusted name in aviation but is now synonymous with sleazy marketing-driven shortcuts.

  15. “[T]hat aircraft is airworthy, and was even after the Ethiopian accident…we have pilots who take the time to care first and foremost about safety and make certain they know everything the airplane that they’re in charge of that they know what it does and doesn’t do, they have great confidence in the other person in the cockpit with them that they’ve been through the exact our pilots, our training, our aircraft, that aircraft was airworthy even with the prior software.”

    Surprised that a professional pilot would so grossly slander colleagues so unfairly by suggesting that the Ethiopian pilots were unskilled — much less that they didn’t even care enough to learn to properly fly their aircraft — when all evidence proved that they carried out procedures exactly as Boeing suggested they should have. Shame.

  16. Quite frankly, leave it grounded until next year. Better yet, shut down the entire program and replace all planes with regular 800s. The entire plane was pushed beyond its limits. It’s flawed and shouldn’t be trusted. Carriers are having a difficult time with people not wanting to fly a flawed design. Let alone the awful comfort for passengers.

  17. The US and Canada will certify this and the rest will trickle on under the “Trust but Verify” mantra

    This is not a computer issue, this is a design flaw. The software only exists because the engines are pushed forward and changing the Angle of Attack calculation.

    I will not be getting on a 737 Max anytime soon

  18. Dougie is right.. Any competent crew using Boeing’s long established IMMEDIATE ACTION MEMORY ITEM CHECKLIST for uncommanded trim would stop MCAS in a heartbeat. In fact, no crew with any common sense would retract flaps with an active stickshaker, so MCAS would never activate. Once they realized it was a false warning, they would simply return & land at the departure airport. Get it fixed! The crew on the flight the evening prior to the first Lion Air crash last fall encountered the same failure, failed to accomplish the checklist, but had a 737 qualified jumpseat rider from another airline who told them what to do. Then they flew over 600 miles to destination with the left side stickshaker active the whole way! After this, they failed to write it up for maintenance to fix, so next morning the new crew in the same airplane was unaware until liftoff & they made all the same mistakes…but no jumpseat rider to explain what to do. UNBELIEVABLE!!

    Then 5 months later, after worldwide headline publicity, Boeing’s advisory detailing the MCAS operation with a sensor failure, & the FAA AD explaining the potential failure & how to handle it, Ethiopian makes all the same mistakes & crashes even quicker. DOUBLE UNBELIEVABLE!!! The Ethiopian CEO statement that his crew followed all the Boeing procedures is far from the truth.

  19. Great airliner, 40 years ago, now its a outdated heap of junk.

    Boeing has put lipstick on a pig, no-one is going to trust the 737 MAX.

  20. Parker is an a**hole blaming the pilots. Who’d work for this jerk? Boeing screwed up big time and needs to own up to their failings on this model. Politics should have nothing to do with it. And if another one goes down, do you think Parker will care?

  21. @BobM – FDR/CVR show that even when trying to follow the checklist, the trim had already run so far that it was not possible to bring it in range to avert the crash. The PF actually re-engaged the autotrim in the hopes that (since it spins much more quickly than one could do manually) there would be some way to trim up. But to no avail.

  22. @aviators99 There is nothing to follow on a “checklist”, it is an immediate action memorized item & has been for 50 yrs. You simply pull back on the control wheel to counter the nose down pitch while simultaneously selecting trim up on the thumb switch under your thumb, then turn off the trim switches on the center console. It is practiced in the simulator & can be accomplished in 2 seconds. The big question is why these crews ever retracted flaps at low altitude with an active stick shaker. That increases stall speed at least 30 kts & also is what makes MCAS active. It defies all logic.

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