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737 Max

FAA Administrator Completes 737 MAX Flight, But Offers Little Substance

FAA Administrator Completes 737 MAX Flight, But Offers Little Substance
Joe Cortez

Embattled Federal Aviation Administrator Steve Dickson completed his promise to fly the Boeing 737 MAX before it was recertified, but his commentary afterwards left little reassurance about the changes to the aircraft or its safety. In comments after the flight, the administrator gave no indication of how the changes have made the airframe a safer aircraft.

Earlier in 2019, a U.S. Senate committee admonished embattled Federal Aviation Administrator Steve Dickson over his handling of the Boeing 737 MAX recertification process. Accused of “stonewalling” the process, the FAA was soon more transparent in offering insight through the process, including offering the proposed airworthiness directive early for review.

As part of his commitment to handling the 737 MAX return to the skies, the agency leader and former pilot said he would personally take the aircraft for a test flight. Although the administrator was among the first aviators to pilot the “improved” aircraft on Sept. 30, 2020, his comments provided little insight as to the changes or safety of the airframe.

“My flight was separate from the official certification process that’s still underway”

Prior to the test, Dickson spent time in the 737 MAX simulator, where he was reportedly submitted to “a variety of problems that presented the relevant emergencies that might occur.” This was followed by an actual test flight of the aircraft, accompanied by observers from both Boeing and the FAA.

“Shortly after I took the helm at the FAA, I made a promise that I would fly the 737 MAX and that I wouldn’t sign off on its return to service until I was comfortable putting my family on it,” Dickson said in comments after the flight. “I want to make it clear that my flight was separate from the official certification process that’s still underway by the FAA.”

In the comments that followed, Dickson did not discuss the performance of the aircraft, nor did he discuss the changes to make the aircraft safer. Rather, he spent his time acknowledging those on the flight with him, and discussing the next steps towards recertification.

“I’m a pilot, and my lens into the world of aviation has been my decades of experience in the front of the airplane,” Dickson said. “It was important to me to experience the training and the handling of the aircraft firsthand, so I can have the most complete understanding possible as we continue to move forward with the process.”

In his statement, Dickson mentioned the open comment period ending on the proposed airworthiness directive, and that his agency would be reading and responding to those comments. A FlyerTalk investigation of the most prominent comments expressed concern with some of the suggestions – or lack thereof – made in the proposition.

From there, the FAA plans to meet with the Joint Operations Evaluation Board (JOEB), to create a Draft Flight Standardization Board report. Dickson did not comment on when it would be available.

Dickson Comments Indicate 737 MAX Recertification Moves Forward as Scheduled

Although the administrator would not commit to a timeline, his comments indicated that the aircraft will be recertified by the end of the year. However, his lack of direct commentary on the aircraft performance left more questions than answers.

“I know you’ve heard me say this before, but the FAA continues to take a thorough and deliberate approach in our review of Boeing’s proposed changes to the 737 MAX,” Dickson said. “We are in the home stretch, but that doesn’t mean we are going to take shortcuts to get it done by a certain date.”

The 737 MAX recertification moves forward. But until it gets in the hands of airlines, the public may not get clear feedback as to how its’ performance has improved.

Feature image courtesy: Boeing

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