COLOGNE, Germany — Europe’s aviation regulator will send its own test pilots and engineers to fly forthcoming certification flight tests of Boeing’s newly modified 737 MAX, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said this week.
In addition, EASA said it favors a design that takes readings from three independent Angle of Attack sensors rather than the two-sensor system in Boeing’s proposed upgrade to the MAX.
The European agency’s stance underscores how badly the two deadly MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia have disrupted the harmony in international aviation that previously granted primacy to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
In little-noted comments at the European Parliament last week, the French executive director of EASA, Patrick Ky, had pointed words for his American counterparts.
“The FAA is in a very difficult situation,” said Ky in a video of his address to the Transport committee of the European Parliament. “When they will say, this (airplane) is good to go, it’s very likely that international authorities will want a second opinion, or a third opinion.”
“That was not the case one year ago,” Ky added. “I think that’s going to be a very strong change in the overall worldwide hierarchy or relationship between the different authorities.”
Although EASA said it’s not mandating how Boeing must address its concern over the Angle of Attack system redesign, Tuesday’s declaration that it would prefer a three-sensor system was a more specific critique than that laid out in Ky’s slide presentation last week, which said Boeing had “still no appropriate response to Angle of Attack integrity issues.”
Installation of a third Angle of Attack sensor in the MAX could be an expensive and prolonged process and might affect not only the new 737 MAX jet but the thousands of older model 737s in service around the world, which all come with just two such sensors. Boeing declined to comment.
EASA’s elaboration Tuesday of its differences with the FAA is a further sign of the differences that have emerged since the October and March crashes that killed 346 people and caused the plane to be grounded worldwide.
According to insiders, the FAA is all but set to approve Boeing’s proposed MAX redesign.
An FAA spokesman, citing the example of several Airbus jets, said, “It’s common for aviation authorities to conduct test flights of new aircraft and major derivatives that other civil aviation authorities certificate.”
The spokesman added: “We continue to work with other international aviation safety regulators and will carefully consider all recommendations. The FAA will incorporate any changes that would improve our certification activities.”
For Boeing, any daylight between the various regulators could be a massive problem. As it moves closer to finalizing its proposed fix for the 737 MAX, it’s struggling with the deep divergence between the FAA and corresponding air safety regulators overseas, most critically EASA.
Ky told the European committee his agency’s insistence on conducting a broad new independent review of the design of all the safety-critical systems on the MAX was “not very popular with our American colleagues.”
But he said such a new review was necessary because there were parts of the original MAX design that EASA “had not completely certified ourselves, because we had delegated some of the tasks to the FAA.”
As a result, he said EASA decided “to basically re-certify the parts that are safety critical that we hadn’t looked at in the previous instance.”
Ky went on to say that though he respected his FAA counterparts, the prior implicit reliance on their capabilities won’t continue.
“They are working for the citizens and they have a very strong ethics ... I have no doubt in the values of the FAA,” he said. “What I think will need to be changed is their methodologies and possibly as well the methodologies we use when we validate a product which has been certified by the FAA.”
That said, Ky recognized that his 800-strong agency cannot do all the certification work on Boeing planes. And even if it tried to, he said, the U.S would then want to recertify all the Airbus planes.
“This is a duplication of effort,” Ky said. “I don’t think we can afford that. We need to find a way to work together — but bearing in mind what happened on the 737 MAX.”
For Boeing, the consequence is immediate: Uncertainty over how soon the MAX can return to service worldwide.
In addition to the worldwide in-service fleet of 387 MAXs grounded around the globe since mid-March, Boeing has by now built and and parked another 252 of the jets.
The biggest MAX parking lot is now Moses Lake, where Boeing on Tuesday landed the 100th MAX for storage until it gets approval to return to passenger service.