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FAA lists proposed changes for 737 MAX return to service

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The FAA today released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for the Boeing 737 MAX, listing its proposed changes for the aircraft before it can return to service. Once officially published in the Federal Register, there will be a 45 day public comment period. This will be followed by additional actions by the FAA and international regulators. Finally Boeing and airlines will need to comply with the terms set forth in any final airworthiness directives before the MAX can return to service.

Update 5 August: The full docket is now posted on the Regulations website here, or search docket FAA-2020-0686-0001 at regulations.gov.

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

The notice of proposed rulemaking is the document the FAA submits for publication in the Federal Register to allow for public comment before official adoption by the agency. Today’s document includes the proposed airworthiness directive that lists six tasks airlines (or Boeing, for undelivered aircraft) will need to perform before their 737 MAX are allowed to return to service:

  • require installing new flight control computer (FCC) software,
  • revising the existing Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) to incorporate new and revised flightcrew procedures,
  • installing new MAX display system (MDS) software,
  • changing the horizontal stabilizer trim wire routing installations,
  • completing an angle of attack sensor system test,
  • performing an operational readiness flight
737 MAX flight deck
The flight deck of a 737 MAX 8

Also released today is the FAA’s preliminary summary of its review of the 737 MAX. The preliminary summary contains a “detailed technical account of the lessons learned” by the FAA, as well as  “actions by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure the airplane’s safe return to service.” The preliminary report concludes:

Through a thorough, transparent, and inclusive process, the FAA has preliminarily determined that Boeing’s proposed changes to the 737 MAX design, flightcrew procedures and maintenance procedures effectively mitigate the airplane-related safety issues that contributed to the Flight 610 and Flight 302 accidents. The FAA further preliminarily determined that the proposed design change also address additional safety concerns beyond those identified during the accident investigations. This report does not address other safety issues that might have contributed to the accidents but are not related to airplane design. This includes the airline maintenance practices, the aircraft operators’ compliance posture, and pilot training effectiveness. The FAA believes recommendations related to these other potential contributing factors should be addressed by the appropriate organizations.Preliminary Summary of the FAA’s Review of the Boeing 737 MAX

How many steps before return to service?

The notice of proposed rulemaking is a significant chapter in the 737 MAX’s return to service, but there remains long road to to travel before the MAX is flying passengers again. According to the FAA, these are the steps that still need to be accomplished.

  • JOEB Validation & FSB Review – Final planning is underway for the FAA’s Flight Standardization Board (FSB) and the Joint Operations Evaluation Board (JOEB) review of proposed training for flight crews, based on the design change and crew procedures. The results of this evaluation will be included in the updated Flight Standardization Board report, which will also be posted for public comment.
    The JOEB will include regulators from Canada, Europe, and Brazil and will evaluate minimum pilot training requirements. The FSB will issue a draft report for public comment addressing the findings of the JOEB.
  • Final FSB Report – The FAA will publish a final FSB report after reviewing and addressing public comments.
  • Final Design Documentation and TAB Report – The FAA will review Boeing’s final design documentation to evaluate compliance with all FAA regulations. The multi-agency Technical Advisory Board will also review the final Boeing submission and issue a final report prior to a final determination of compliance by the FAA.
  • CANIC & AD – The FAA will issue a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) providing notice of pending significant safety actions and will publish a final Airworthiness Directive (AD) that addresses the known issues for grounding. The AD will advise operators of required corrective actions before aircraft may re-enter commercial service.
  • FAA Rescinds Grounding Order – This marks the official ungrounding of the aircraft, pending completion by operators of the work specified in the AD, along with any required training.
  • Certificates of Airworthiness – The FAA will retain its authority to issue airworthiness certificates and export certificates for all new 737 MAX airplanes manufactured since the grounding. The FAA will perform in-person, individual reviews of these aircraft.
  • Operator Training Programs – The FAA will review and approve training programs for all Part 121 operators.
Featured image © C.v. Grinsven
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