By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Chief Steve Dickson is set to conduct an evaluation flight at the controls of a Boeing 737 MAX <BA.N> next week, a key milestone as the U.S. planemaker works to win approval to resume flights, the agency told lawmakers.
The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded since March 2019 after two fatal crashes killed 346 people. Dickson, who was previously a commercial airline pilot, plans to undergo simulator training before the flight and will then share his observations with FAA technical staff.
It is not typical for an FAA administrator to fly an airplane before it returns to service. Dickson has repeatedly said he would not sign off until he flew it himself and was “satisfied that I would put my own family on it without a second thought.”
The FAA told U.S. lawmakers in an email Friday that Dickson and FAA Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell “will be in Seattle next week to take the recommended training.” The flight by Dickson will fulfill “his promise to fly the aircraft before the FAA approves its return to service.”
Boeing shares were up 6.7%.
The FAA and regulators from Canada, European Union Aviation Safety Agency Brazil earlier this week concluded the Joint Operations Evaluation Board (JOEB) assessing Boeing’s proposed 737 MAX training.
A draft Flight Standardization Board report including the JOEB findings will released for public comment in the “near future,” the FAA said, and it must still finalize a directive outlining software upgrades and other changes that all 737 MAX planes must undergo before resuming flights.
Given required time for public comments, it appears MAX could get final FAA approval to return to service sometime in November, sources briefed on the matter said.
Earlier Friday, Europe’s chief aviation safety regulator said the MAX could receive regulatory approval to resume flying in November and enter service by the end of the year.
“For the first time in a year and a half, I can say there’s an end in sight to work on the MAX,” said Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
Ky said Boeing had agreed to install the computerized third-sensor system on the next version of the plane, the 230-seat 737 MAX 10, followed by retrofits on the rest of the fleet later.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Diane Craft and Nick Zieminski)