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Europe, Canada to Review Boeing Jet    03/21 06:51

   (AP) -- Boeing's grounded airliners are likely to be parked longer now that 
European and Canadian regulators plan to conduct their own reviews of changes 
the company is making after two of the jets crashed.

   The Europeans and Canadians want to do more than simply take the U.S. 
Federal Aviation Administration's word that alterations to a key flight-control 
system will make the 737 Max safer. Those reviews scramble an ambitious 
schedule set by Boeing and could undercut the FAA's reputation around the world.

   Boeing hopes by Monday to finish an update to software that can 
automatically point the nose of the plane sharply downward in some 
circumstances to avoid an aerodynamic stall, according to two people briefed on 
FAA presentations to congressional committees.

   The FAA expects to certify Boeing's modifications and plans for pilot 
training in April or May, one of the people said. Both spoke on the condition 
of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the briefings.

   But there are clear doubts about meeting that timetable. Air Canada plans to 
remove the Boeing 737 Max from its schedule at least through July 1 and suspend 
some routes that it flew with the plane before it was grounded around the world 
last week.

   American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, which are 
slightly less dependent on the Max than Air Canada, are juggling their fleets 
to fill in for grounded planes, but those carriers have still canceled some 
flights.

   By international agreement, planes must be certified in the country where 
they are built. Regulators around the world have almost always accepted that 
country's decision.

   As a result, European airlines have flown Boeing jets with little 
independent review by the European Aviation Safety Agency, and U.S. airlines 
operate Airbus jets without a separate, lengthy certification process by the 
FAA.

   That practice is being frayed, however, in the face of growing questions 
about the FAA's certification of the Max. Critics question whether the agency 
relied too much on Boeing to vouch for critical safety matters and whether it 
understood the significance of a new automated flight-control system on the Max.

   The FAA let the Boeing Max keep flying after preliminary findings from the 
Oct. 29 crash of a Lion Air Max 8 in Indonesia pointed to flight-control 
problems linked to the failure of a sensor. Boeing went to work on upgrading 
the software to, among other things, rely on more than one sensor and limit the 
system's power to point the plane's nose down without direction from the pilots.

   The FAA's assurance that the plane was still safe to fly was good enough for 
the rest of the world until an Ethiopian Airlines Max 8 crashed. Satellite data 
suggests both planes had similar, erratic flight paths before crashing minutes 
after takeoff.

   Patrick Ky, the executive director of the European regulator, said his 
agency will look "very deeply, very closely" at the changes Boeing and the FAA 
suggest to fix the plane.

   "I can guarantee to you that on our side we will not allow the aircraft to 
fly if we have not found acceptable answers to all our questions, whatever the 
FAA does," he said.

   The message was the same from Canada's Transport minister, Marc Garneau.

   "When that software change is ready, which is a number of weeks, we will in 
Canada --- even if it is certified by the FAA --- we will do our own 
certification," he said.

   Other countries could also conduct their own analysis of how much pilot 
training should be required on the Max. Ky noted that one Lion Air crew 
correctly disabled the plane's malfunctioning flight-control system, but not 
the crew on the next flight, which crashed. He said pilots under stress might 
have forgotten details of a bulletin Boeing issued in November that reminded 
pilots about that procedure.

   The FAA's handling of issues around the Max jet have damaged its standing 
among other aviation regulators, said James Hall, former chairman of the 
National Transportation Safety Board.

   The FAA will have to be more transparent about its investigation, and it 
should require that pilots train for the Max on flight simulators, Hall said, 
because "that is how pilots train today, not on iPads."

   John Hansman, an aeronautics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of 
Technology and chairman of an FAA research and engineering advisory committee, 
said separate approvals by Canada and the Europeans will reassure the public 
because those countries are seen as having no vested interest in the plane.

   "It's unfortunate because it will probably cause a delay, but it may be the 
right thing in the long haul," Hansman said. He expects that the FAA will wait 
until other regulators finish their reviews before letting the Max fly again.

   FAA spokesman Greg Martin would not comment on whether the agency's 
reputation has been hurt by its approval of the Max, the crashes or the 
agency's initial hesitation to ground the planes after the second crash.

   Meanwhile, the FAA is getting a new chief. The White House said Tuesday that 
President Donald Trump will nominate former Delta Air Lines executive and pilot 
Stephen Dickson to head the agency. Daniel Elwell has been acting administrator 
since January 2018.

   Boeing too is shifting personnel. This week, the company named the chief 
engineer of its commercial airplanes division to lead the company's role in the 
investigations into the Oct. 29 crash of the Lion Air jet and the March 10 
Ethiopian Airlines crash. The executive, John Hamilton, has experience in 
airplane design and regulatory standards.

   From 2013 until early 2016, Hamilton oversaw the use of Boeing employees to 
perform some safety-certification work on behalf of the FAA. That program has 
come under criticism from critics including members of Congress.

   The Justice Department is investigating the FAA's oversight of Boeing, and a 
federal grand jury issued a subpoena to someone involved in the plane's 
development. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao formally directed her 
agency's inspector general to audit the FAA's handling of that process. 
Congressional committees are looking into the matter as well.

   A Senate subcommittee will hold a hearing on Max and aviation safety on 
March 27.

   The company declined to comment. The Max, the latest and most fuel-efficient 
version of the half-century-old 737, is Boeing's best-selling plane, with more 
than 4,600 unfilled orders.


(KA)

 
 
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