No timeline for Boeing 737 to return to skies, says US FAA chief

FAA administrator Steve Dickson vows to follow more ‘holistic’ approach to safety in wake of Boeing 737 Max crashes

Dickson said that the FAA is “not following a timeline” on certification of the 737 Max.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has vowed to take a more “holistic approach” to certifying aircraft and may become more involved from the beginning of an aircraft’s design, according to FAA administrator Steve Dickson.

The move follows two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 Max aircraft. After the crashes, the FAA has been repeatedly criticised – including by a technical panel that included the UAE – for not adequately reviewing a new automated safety system in the aircraft.

Speaking to reporters at the Dubai Airshow on Wednesday, Dickson said that going forward the FAA will take a “more holistic versus transactional, item-by-item approach to aircraft certification.”

This process, he added, will include “integrating human factor considerations” throughout the design process as aircraft become more automated and systems more complex, as well as ensuring information flow during the oversight process and examining how to de-conflict airspace and address cyber threats.

In his remarks, Dickson said that it was likely that the FAA will become increasingly involved in an aircraft’s design process from an early stage.

“As a design develops over a period of year, we need to be able to make sure that we are in a position to work with the manufacturer and make sure that we’re looking at all interactions from a system perspective, including how a human interacts with the machine,” he said.

This approach, he added, stands in contrast to previous practices which was there was a mindset of “compliance.”

“You’d have a rule and either you’d comply with the rule or you don’t comply with the rule,” he said. “What we found over the decades is that that doesn’t always lead to improvements in aviation safety.”

Additionally, Dickson said that the FAA is “not following a timeline” on certification of the 737 Max, adding that “it remains to be seen” whether the aircraft will fly again by January 2020 as manufacturer Boeing has said.

“We’re going to make sure we are very methodical and very diligent,” he said, adding that the next steps include software documentation audits, a ‘workload management’ module and eventually certification flights and pilot training requirements.

Once those steps are completed, the timeline for the Max’s return to service will be clearer, he added, noting that the FAA has had “constructive” meetings with both Flydubai – the largest operator of the Max outside the US – and the UAE’S General Civil Aviation Authority.

With regards to the Boeing 777X – which is yet to be certified – Dickson sad that he’s had an “excellent dialogue” with Emirates on the aircraft and that the FAA would “perhaps put even more emphasis as the systems evolve that they are effectively integrated across the entire product.”

He declined to give any timeline on whether increased scrutiny would lead to further delays in the 777X’s delivery.

Dickson repeatedly stated that the FAA sees the changes to its certification process as an ongoing process that will continue to evolve over time.

“Safety is a journey, not a destination. It’s something that we have to be focused on each and every day,” he added. “What we’re ding right now is not going to be good enough for the future, so we all need to continue to work together.”

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