The Boeing 737 Max will not be approved to fly again before the end of this year, according to the head of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Administrator Stephen Dickson, appearing on CNBC ahead of his testimony before the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday, said he could not provide a time frame for when the plane will get approval to fly again. But he said there are 10 or 11 different steps in the certification process that are yet to be completed. “If you do the math, it’s going to extend into 2020,” he said.
When asked if that meant it might be approved in January or February, he declined to give a target.
“If I had that kind of a crystal ball I would certainly be able to share it,” he said. “But it’s very important that our team works very closely with the international authorities that have been working with us and with the Boeing team to do this right.”
In his prepared opening remarks for his testimony later Wednesday, Dickson also declined to give any time target for when the plane will be allowed to fly again.
“I have directed FAA employees to take whatever time is needed to do that work,” he said of the certification process.
The grounding has cost Boeing billions of dollars. Boeing has continued to insist that it wanted to get the plane approved to fly again, at least in the United States, by the end of this year and that commercial service could begin as soon as January, although the decision rests with the FAA.
Asked for a comment on Dickson’s statement that the plane will not be approved to fly again this year, Boeing would only say that “we continue to work closely with the FAA and global regulators towards certification and the safe return to service of the Max.”
The three US airlines that own the planes, Southwest, American and United, have said they are not planning to include the plane on flight schedules until at least March. Dickson said he’s not concerned that Boeing has continued to insist it was shooting for the end of the year for service, even though he has told Boeing that it wouldn’t happen.
“I made it very clear that Boeing’s plan is not the FAA’s plan. We’re certainly working closely together,” he said. Asked if he was under pressure from Boeing to speed up the certification process he responded, “I would not say there have been any requests to cut corners.”
The hearing Wednesday will include a testimony from Edward Pierson, a Boeing retiree and whistleblower who told NBC earlier this week that he had warned of potential problems with the 737 Max and had those concerns dismissed by Boeing officials due to costs.
The hearing also comes on the day that the Wall Street Journal reported that an FAA analysis of the 737 Max after the first fatal crash of the jet in Indonesia found that it could average a fatal crash every two or three years without changes. A person familiar with the document confirmed to CNN that the details as reported by the Journal are accurate.
But the FAA did not ground the plane after the first crash. And before changes could be made, there was a second fatal crash in Ethiopia five months after the first. The grounding of the jet occurred after the second crash. The Journal said that FAA analysis is due to be made public at Wednesday’s hearing.