The Boeing 737 Max could be certified to fly again before the end of the year, according to Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
In an interview with Bloomberg, the regulator said the manufacturer had made the plane safe enough to return to operation. It has been grounded since March last year after fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people.
After test flights conducted in September, the EASA is performing final document reviews ahead of a draft airworthiness directive it expects to issue next month. That will be followed by four weeks of public comment.
However, a new technology upgrade demand by the regulator will not be ready for up to two years. The development of a so-called synthetic sensor will add redundancy to safety measures, but will take 20 to 24 months to develop, Ky said. The software-based solution will be required on the larger Max 10 variant before its debut targeted for 2022, and retrofitted onto other versions.
“Our analysis is showing that this is safe, and the level of safety reached is high enough for us,” Ky said in an interview with Bloomberg.
“What we discussed with Boeing is the fact that with the third sensor, we could reach even higher safety levels.”
The comments mark the firmest endorsement yet from a major regulator of the Boeing goal to return its beleaguered workhorse to service by year-end, following numerous delays and setbacks.
In the United States, American Airlines said it plans to return Boeing 737 Max jets to service for passenger flights by the end of the year.
That move will, however, depend on certification of the aircraft from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The airline said it will operate a daily 737 Max flight between Miami and New York from December 29th and January 4th.
“We remain in contact with the FAA and Boeing on the certification process and we’ll continue to update our plans based on when the aircraft is certified,” the company said in a statement.
The FAA in a statement Sunday reiterated it has no timeline for approving the return to service and said it “will lift the grounding order only after FAA safety experts are satisfied that the aircraft meets certification standards”.