PARIS (Reuters) – Europe is set to lift the 22-month flight ban on the Boeing 737 MAX this week after reviewing comments from industry experts and whistleblowers, which angered the relatives of some of the 346 crash victims , who say the move is premature.
A green light from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is a key step towards resolving a security crisis nearly two years after the best-selling plane crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia linked to faulty cabin software piloting.
The United States lifted its ban in November, followed by Brazil and Canada. China, which was the first to ban the plane after the second crash in March 2019 and which accounts for a quarter of MAX’s sales, hasn’t said when it will act.
After giving provisional approval in November, EASA sifted through the contributions from 38 commentators and “directly received a number of whistleblower reports that we have thoroughly analyzed and considered,” executive director Patrick Ky said Monday.
This, he said, did not reveal any new technical problems.
But a group of victims based in France, Solidarity and Justice, called the move “premature, inappropriate and even dangerous”.
Analysts and airline chiefs say EASA, which represents 31 nations mainly from the EU, has emerged stronger from the crisis, which has eroded the US leadership in aviation safety.
Its US counterpart, the Federal Aviation Administration, was blamed for Boeing’s poor oversight in approving the MAX, which featured poorly documented software that could order repeat dives based on a single vulnerable sensor.
Among its conditions for freeing the jet, EASA insisted on doing its own independent review of all critical systems well beyond MCAS software, angering Boeing and some US officials.
He also said that the causes of accidents must be understood, design changes must be implemented and pilots properly trained.
“We believe these four conditions are now met,” Ky said.
But a lasting impact will be a decade-long trend towards interdependence that had seen regulators rely on each other’s safety judgments, amid pressures to be more efficient.
Under a 2011 agreement, EASA and the FAA decided to base their assessment of aircraft designed in each other’s territory on tests and compliance decisions made by the other agency “to the fullest extent possible.”
“Of course, given these tragedies, we have stopped this trend and will increase our level of involvement,” Ky said, referring to EASA’s approval of future US projects.
Analysts said an increase in controls could slow certification of Boeing’s upcoming 777X, while the FAA could react by stepping up oversight of France-based Airbus.
Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Alexander Smith