The jetliner has remained grounded for more than a year, the Federal Aviation Administration’s chief said Wednesday.
Asked why the process has taken so long, FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson said the 737 Max’s entire flight control system – not just the software – has come under scrutiny.
The overhaul has been complicated by the need to get the changes to work in conjunction with the plane’s redundancies and with other interdependent systems.
Dickson’s explanation cast new light on a process that Boeing initially hoped could be resolved with relatively quick software code rewrites by the end of last year.
Instead, it has dragged on for close to 15 months since the plane was grounded in March 2019 following two fatal crashes in five months that killed 346 people.
Faced with airlines having to cut back flight schedules before travel demand cratered after the coronavirus pandemic struck, the process of fixing the plane has dragged on.
Dickson insisted recertification won’t be rushed: “We are not on any timeline. We are narrowing the issues,” he told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
He added that the improvements are going forward “very diligently and very carefully.” And he said the process has not been delayed by work stoppages due to the pandemic.
The 737 Max, the latest version of the workhorse jet, was grounded worldwide last year after two crashes, one a Lion Air flight and the other an Ethiopian Airlines flight, claimed 346 lives combined. In both cases, investigations pointed to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, a pilot-assist program that repeatedly pushed the plane toward the ground as the crew wrestled to keep it aloft.
By December, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who faced intense criticism over his handling of the 737 Max crisis, had resigned.