NEW YORK (AFP) – The top US air transport regulator on Wednesday doused Boeing’s hopes that its 737 MAX will return to the skies this year while lawmakers probed why the agency failed to ground the plane after the first of two tragic crashes.
In an interview just ahead of a congressional hearing, Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson told CNBC the aircraft will not be cleared to fly before 2020.
The MAX has been grounded since March following the second of two crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
The process for approving the MAX’s return to the skies still has 10 or 11 milestones left to complete, including a certification flight and a public comment period on pilot training requirements, the FAA chief said.
”If you just do the math, it’s going to extend into 2020,” he said.
Boeing has been aiming to win regulatory approval this month, with flights projected to resume in January.
But Dickson said, ”I’ve made it very clear Boeing’s plan is not the FAA’s plan.”
Many of the questions at the hearing by the House Transportation Committee focused on why the FAA did not move more aggressively after the first crash in October 2018.
Boeing and the FAA have been under intense scrutiny for their responses to issues with the aircraft, including the flight-handling system involved in both accidents, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.
Rather than grounding the plane after the Lion Air crash, the FAA did not move until after the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy in March.
In the interim, the agency required Boeing to revise the MCAS flight handling system in a process overseen by the FAA and issued guidelines to flight crews worldwide on how the respond to a problem with MCAS, an automated system the Lion Air pilots were unable to control.