FAA Tells Boeing It Doubts MAX 10 will Meet Safety Standard Deadline

March 25, 2022
In a critical letter to Boeing this month, the local oversight office of the Federal Aviation Administration said it will be difficult for Boeing to complete certification of the 737 MAX 10 by the end of this year — a crucial deadline.

Mar. 25—In a critical letter to Boeing this month, the local oversight office of the Federal Aviation Administration said it will be difficult for Boeing to complete certification of the 737 MAX 10 by the end of this year — a crucial deadline.

Certification is the FAA's declaration that an aircraft is safe to fly passengers. If Boeing misses that cutoff date, the MAX 10 cannot be certified unless it persuades Congress to extend a special exemption from a safety regulation.

Given current progress, the FAA letter casts doubt on Boeing's publicly stated timelines for certifying both the MAX 10 and the 777-9X jets, and it asks the plane maker to provide updated schedules for both programs.

The letter was not publicly disclosed, but two sources, one within Boeing and one with the FAA, verified its content. The sources asked for anonymity out of fear of losing their jobs.

In a statement, Boeing said it is preparing updated timelines and that the FAA will determine the pace of the certification work.

"We are working to provide official documentation of specific milestones within the certification program in accordance with the FAA's request," Boeing said, adding that "we have no updates to share."

Regarding the possibility of the missed MAX 10 deadline, a Boeing official reiterated Thursday that, as yet, the company "has not requested any official action by any member of Congress."

However, the official said the company's lobbyists on Capitol Hill "have been educating congressional members and staff about potential impacts" — presumably a reference to potential job losses in Renton and elsewhere if an exemption wasn't granted, a scenario that could kill the MAX 10 program.

"We have communicated [to lawmakers] the potential implications for failure to certify the 737-10 by year-end," the Boeing official said.

The FAA declined to discuss the ongoing certification projects. "Safety will dictate the timeline," the agency said in a statement.

Much tighter scrutiny

The MAX 10, the final model in the MAX family, first flew in June 2021 and has been in flight testing since. Boeing is depending on sales of this largest version of the MAX to counter the rival hot-selling Airbus A321neo.

More rigorous FAA scrutiny following the failures in oversight in the certification of the original 737 MAX 8 model has slowed approval for the MAX 10.

Further delaying the process, when the European Aviation Safety Agency certified the MAX in 2021, it insisted that certain flight-control system improvements, including an additional angle of attack sensor, must be added to the MAX 10.

The 777-9X, the first and largest 777X model, faces a similarly prolonged certification program.

That giant jet made its first flight in January 2020, kicking off a test flight program that Boeing previously projected would take an unprecedented four years. Past flight test programs typically took just over a year.

The letter questioning the timelines set for both jet programs was signed by Ian Won, the acting manager for aviation safety in the FAA office that oversees Boeing's certification of new airplanes.

Won has led the tightening of FAA oversight.

Last May, his office ruled the 777X "not yet ready" to pass a key certification milestone and demanded more test data. In August, he initiated a new review of Boeing after a survey of company engineers found a sizable percentage felt they couldn't raise safety concerns.

The immediate problem his letter highlights for Boeing is the MAX 10 deadline.

The issue is that modern airliners are required to have crew-alerting systems with specific safety features to warn pilots of a malfunction during flight and to help them differentiate, prioritize and respond to different types of alerts.

The crew-alerting system on the 737 MAX, limited by the 1960s-era 737 cockpit systems design, doesn't meet that standard.

The 737 is the only Boeing jet that doesn't meet the requirement.

During certification of the 737 MAX 8 in 2014, Boeing persuaded the FAA to relax this specific safety standard, as it had done for all prior 737 models.

Documents obtained by The Seattle Times in 2019 revealed Boeing's argument to the FAA. Its case rested largely on the 737's long and generally safe service history.

Boeing statistics show that the previous 737 NG model — the version of the 737 that crashed this week in China — through 2017 had a record among the best of large airliners of 1 serious accident per 6 million departures.

Boeing separately argued in 2014 that it had corrected each of the distinct crew-alerting issues that may have contributed to pilot confusion in three fatal 737 crashes during the previous decade.

And it cited a cost of $10 billion to install a modern crew-alerting system on the MAX. The FAA agreed that this was "impractical."

However, after the MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people, Congress in late 2020 passed the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act.

The law was written to require tougher certification standards for all future new airplanes. However, it implicitly accepted the MAX's exemption by setting the law to take effect two years ahead: Jan 1, 2023.

At the time, it was expected the MAX 10 would be certified by then. This would allow pilots who fly the MAX to move from one model to another — from the MAX 8 to the 9 or the 10 — with a common crew-alerting system, and so avoid potential confusion.

If Boeing fails to make the deadline, it must ask lawmakers to give it another pass and amend the date.


(c)2022 The Seattle Times

Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.