Boeing is pressuring the FAA to clear the 737 Max to fly sooner, even as some airline staff beg not to be put back on it
- Boeing has been pushing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to speed up the return of its 737 Max jet, which has been grounded for eight months in the wake of two fatal crashes.
- Reports by The New York Times and Reuters suggest that Boeing has pushed FAA officials to speed up testing and permit early deliveries of the plane.
- In response, FAA chief Stephen Dickson posted a video to staff where he acknowledged "pressure" to accelerate to process, but encouraged them to resist.
- This week, airline pilots accused Boeing of "arrogance" for pushing for a swift return, while American Airlines flight crew begged union officials to stop them being assigned to the plane.
- Boeing said Saturday morning that the FAA and other regulators have sole control of the timetable for the jet's return.
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Boeing is exerting pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration to speed up the approval of its 737 Max jet to fly again, according to multiple reports, and seemingly confirmed by the agency's head.
At the same time, airline crew and pilots are pushing back against any expedited timescale for the Max's return, with some begging not to be assigned to the jets even after they return to service.
The Max has been grounded for eight months, since the second of two fatal crashes which killed more than 300 people between them.
The approval process centers on proposed fixes to an automated flight control system which malfunctioned in the two crashes. It has taken far longer than many in the aviation industry expected.
- Pushing for pilots to test the new software on flight simulators before the FAA has finishes vetting it.
- Asking the FAA to let Boeing deliver newly-manufactured 737 Maxes to clients before it is approved to fly, to shorten the lag between approval and airlines putting passengers on it.
The FAA has resisted, The Times reported. It said engineers pointed out that it does not make sense to ask pilots to test software before it is fully vetted, since it could be changed during that process.
Senior figures at the FAA have encouraged staff to take all the time they need to keep assessing the plane, both in public and in private.
In a video message to staff, posted Friday on YouTube, agency head Stephen Dickson told staff to resist "pressure" being put on them to clear the plane soon. He did not name Boeing.
His comments on the Max begin around 55 seconds into the clip below:
Dickson says: "I know there's a lot of pressure to return this aircraft to service quickly. But I want you to know that I want you to take the time you need and focus solely on safety. I've got your back."
The Times reported that Dickson was personally lobbied by Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg over the request to begin deliveries sooner, and has yet to make a decision.
His caution echoes a Thursday letter from Dickson to the FAA's head of safety, copies of which were given to regulators working on the 737 Max.
Boeing said earlier this week that it could be cleared to recommence deliveries of the plane as soon as mid-December, though the FAA has not committed to that timetable.
Tension over the timescale comes as employees who would be tasked with flying the plane express their worry over getting back on it.
Lori Bassani, the head of Association of Professional Flight Attendants, a union representing staff at American, said: "I hear from flight attendants every day, and they're begging me not to make them go back up in that plane."
She said Boeing needs to share more information with her members about their safety changes before they will be happy to get back on.
Her words followed a harsh rebuke from Jon Weaks, the head of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, who said Boeing was demonstrating "arrogance, ignorance, and greed" in its push to get the plane flying again.
Boeing on Saturday responded to accusations of pressure by insisting that the only people who are dictating the timetable of the 737 Max's return are regulators.
Speaking at a news conference ahead of the Dubai Airshow, which begins Sunday, Boeing executive Stan Deal said: "The FAA and regulators around the world control the schedule" according to Reuters.
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