MAX, 777X certification questions abound at Singapore Airshow

By Judson Rollins

February 13, 2020, © Leeham News: Despite depressed turnout at this year’s Singapore Airshow, there was still plenty of conversation around the return to service for Boeing’s beleaguered 737 MAX – and potential impacts on the certification of the 777X.

  • Ungrounding will take ~30 days from certification flight; operators also have work to do
  • Every MAX produced to date will require its own validation flight
  • FAA will gradually hand back some oversight to Boeing
  • 777X, other future certifications will be different; regulators still figuring out how

FAA administrator, deputy taking hands-on role in evaluating new MAX training

At a press briefing on the sidelines of the Singapore Airshow, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson made it clear yet again that the 737 MAX’s return to service will not be a hasty one. Dickson said, “I’m committed to honoring the memory of those who lost their lives by working tirelessly each and every day of my tenure to ensure the highest possible margin of safety in our global aviation system.”

The next major milestone in the RTS process is a certification flight, the timing of which is not yet firm but is expected within the next few weeks. The flight will be conducted by FAA test pilots and is intended to confirm whether Boeing’s software fixes on the MAX bring the airplane within FAA transport aircraft standards.

“When we finally make the decision to return the aircraft to service, it will be the most scrutinized aircraft in history,” said Dickson. “I’m also not going to sign off on the aircraft until I fly it myself.”

Dickson said that he and Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell, both licensed commercial pilots, will complete the simulator and computer-based training recommended by Boeing. “But we don’t want to have our thumb on the scale. We’ve got international crews and US crews coming into evaluate those [training] proposals, and we’ll have to see how they perform and whether any modifications for the building proposal [are required].”

“Once that [flight] is completed,” Dickson added, “I think we’ll have a good bit more clarity on where the process goes forward from here.” Within days after the flight, the FAA and other regulators will begin joint validation of Boeing’s training proposal. The results will be forwarded to the flight standardization board, which will issue a final report defining MAX training requirements. That will be subject to a public comment period.

The minimum time from certification flight to potentially ungrounding the MAX is 30 days, Dickson estimated. During that time, a technical advisory board must issue its final findings for aircraft modifications and a minimum master equipment list (MEL) must be approved. The latter has been available for public comment since early December.

Boeing working with customers ahead of final FAA ungrounding order

Once all of these steps are complete, the FAA will issue a notice of pending airworthiness directive to operators and regulators around the world with all of the needed modifications and updated training requirements for the MAX. Within a day or two of this notice, the actual order to unground the MAX will follow.

But carriers will not be able to put the MAX into service until they make all required technical changes, get new training curricula approved by regulators, and put enough pilots through simulator training. In a subsequent briefing, Boeing sales VP Ihssane Mounir told reporters that the manufacturer is already using the training arm of its Boeing Global Services division to help operators develop those curricula while the rest of the process is underway.

Mounir said, “In terms of dialogue with customers, we’re keeping them up to speed in terms of progress with regulators.” He spoke of “daily fleet calls” between Boeing and MAX customers. “Those conversations are not always easy … it’s very difficult to share with a customer that you’re not ready to put the airplane back in service.” Mounir added that Boeing customer service and engineering staff are looking at every aircraft to determine what maintenance checks, time-limited parts replacement, service bulletins, modifications, and other requirements must be fulfilled before it can be returned to service.

“When the airlines are ready to fly, we will treat every airplane as if it were its first entry into service,” said Mounir.

The FAA and other regulators will also require a separate validation flight for each MAX before it can receive a new airworthiness certificate. FAA inspectors, not Boeing employees, will be issuing those certificates for the first few months. This is expected to change over time “if things are working well,” said Dickson.

Even with Boeing support, operators will likely need weeks or months after any final FAA action before they can get their MAX fleets into service.

Fallout likely on 777X certification, but details are unclear

When asked about future aircraft certification, Dickson was quick to point out that the level of scrutiny applied to the MAX will not be the template for future certifications. “What we’re doing in terms of certification is not a sustainable proposition going forward in my view,” he said. “It’s not what we would want or desire. You can’t pull all these functions into the government. We’re just not going to have the ability to really oversee the processes effectively.”

“We will certainly take some of the processes that we’re using now with the MAX and use them in the 777X.”

The decision on whether to certify 777X as a derivative or not that will depend on Boeing proposals, added Dickson. “One of the things that we will do is use a technical advisory board to do an independent crosscheck on the FAA’s work, as we’ve done before. We’ll also make a greater use of our chief scientists in the process.”

“The lessons learned will ideally lead to a more holistic versus transactional item by item approach to aircraft certification in the future, not only in the US but around the world.”

An FAA spokesman provided LNA with some principles already identified as necessary for future aircraft certification:

  • A more holistic versus transactional, item-by-item approach to certification, with coordinated and flexible information flow throughout the oversight process;
  • Integrate human factors more effectively throughout the design process, particularly as aircraft become more automated and systems more complex;
  • Promote an environment of “Just Culture” and safety management systems not only for operators, but for manufacturers and suppliers, regulators, air navigation service providers, and all industries involved in the aerospace system.

At an investor conference Wednesday, Boeing CFO Greg Smith said the company is trying to anticipate process changes ahead of the 777X’s expected 2021 entry into service. (Some question if the EIS will slip to 2022.) “We’re not assuming business as usual, certify the aircraft, and nor should we,” said Smith. “Do we have specifics on what exactly might change? Not specifics, but we’re anticipating them. We’re taking some of the learnings off the 737 MAX and trying to get ahead of it and apply them on the 777X.”

35 Comments on “MAX, 777X certification questions abound at Singapore Airshow

  1. 2022 EIS, 12-15 months for flight testing, 9-12 month extra for recertification?

    Boeing & FAA should have never re-installed grandfatheringof design and requirements, when Boeing had to speed up the 737MAX and 777X.

    Congress bares huge responsibility for the damaging FAA streamlining and delegation. They pushed hard for it. Specially since 2012 FAA re- authorization. Will they take resposibility like they expect from others?

    • IMU you once brought up a reference to “an end to grandfathering” from ~~2000.

      What actually happened to that joint FAA/EASA determination?
      Was it trashed to lighten the burden after 911?

    • I think there is some confusion here about grandfathering. Originally that was considered to be the automatic application of prior certification rules, which preempted current rules.. That was ended in 2000, as per the article that Keesje provided.

      What you guys now are referring to as grandfathering, is the application for exemptions to current certification rules, which are considered on a case-by-case basis. If you have a new aircraft design, it’s designed for the current regulations and there is little need for exemption. If you have an older aircraft design, it may not meet all the current regulations. So either the design is modified or an exemption is requested. But this process is no longer automatic.

      Exemptions are evaluated and approved or disapproved. In general exemptions are not made for safety concerns. Usually those don’t wait for the next certification, and are instead addressed with an AD. All aircraft then have to be modified, existing or new, and the manufacturing process must be altered.

      In some cases the regulations are changed but with the stipulation that only newly constructed aircraft must comply. For example the 16g seating, existing aircraft did not have to be retrofitted, but any new aircraft had to have them.

  2. Another (independent) TAB?
    How did that work?

    One question Dickson should have been asked:
    On December 12 Dickson asked for all self-certification documents.
    Did the FAA checked all documents???

    • Leon, possibly you may have misunderstood this. In December, Dickson told Mullenberg that if he wanted to accelerate the process, it would be more productive for Boeing to have timely submissions of needed documents and materials. He didn’t demand any documents, only pointed out that Boeing itself contributed to the delay.

      After Mullenberg left, Boeing did better with this and stopped pushing from behind. That earned praise from Dickson because they were being more responsive.

      • My God, the FAA was the main regulator for the MAX. The FAA should have all certification documents from 2017 which must be stamped, Boeing’s self-cert documents too. Only these stamped documents from 2017 are valid. Is Dickson really so narrow minded, he might ask Calhoun for the stamp too.

        I was in the regulation business too. Asking for documents in December 2019 leaves the door open for Boeing to fake the documents. If Dickson doesn’t use the original certification documents from 2017 it’s a joke.
        US kindergarden

        There should be one regulator who is not narrow minded and check all Boeing self-certifications in detail, just to show Dickson, Boeing and Trump who the sherif is.

  3. I don’t understand why the FAA is talking about what is seemingly *ONE* Certification Flight.

    “Once that [flight] is completed,” says Mr. Dickson.

    Can the FAA check all what needs to be checked with only one flight?

    Or will it be only some sort of symbolic flight?

    • I think he was referring to the first certification flight. I don’t know how many are needed to check all the test points. Once the flight occurs, there will be feedback to Boeing as to things that must be addressed. So in that sense there could be several flights, with the number of test points decreasing over time.

      Once the type certification is issued, then each aircraft will still require a certification flight before being issued an airworthiness certificate and restored to service.

      • Or the last certification flight that Dickson will fly himself . Most likely to gives the thumps up after landing to give Boeing praise and make Wall street boost the Boeing stock…

        • I think he’s responding to the countless public comments that FAA and Boeing executives should be compelled to fly the MAX, as they are putting other’s lives at risk. Look at pretty much any news story on the MAX, and you will see some version of that in the comments.

          So he’s doing that, showing that he will put himself in the same position as the public, and in this case, the pilots. It’s why Mullenberg also went on many of the test flights himself.

          Obviously their presence doesn’t make the MAX any safer, but it helps to dispel the argument that they don’t care whether the MAX is safe or not.

  4. Dickson said, “I’m committed to ensure the highest possible margin of safety in our global aviation system.”
    “When we finally make the decision to return the aircraft to service, it will be the most scrutinized aircraft in history,” said Dickson.

    bla bla bla … Dickson is Trump’s soldier.
    Why took it 9 months after grounding to tell Muilenburg to provide all self-certification documents? Was it because EASA asked for it? Did he have a deal with EASA to keep the scrutiny level low? Did he check all self-certification documents?

    Another regulator might do the real job and check self-certifaction documents, not FAA, not EASA, though EASA might flight testing without MCAS.

    • Dickson says of future certification – ‘ We’re just not going to have the ability to really oversee the processes effectively.”

      This seems a strange statement for a regulator – appointed to do just this

      If not he, the regulator, who will really oversee the processes effectively?

      Obviously not BA – but who?

      • You have only quoted half his statement and by doing so contradicting what he said
        “it’s not what we would want or desire. You can’t pull all these functions into the government. We’re just not going to have the ability to really oversee the processes effectively.”

        Which means the level of scrutiny for one part of the Max can’t be repeated because it would mean the rest of the certification couldn’t be overseen
        The perils of only half quoting.

        • @dukeofurl

          The other half of the quote merely magnifies the ‘we can’t oversee’ of his statement, it does not contradict it (or alter or modify etc)

          I do not dispute what he says, I question; Mr Dickson can if he wants (but he does not here) contradict himself, but not I him

          He’s still not able to regulate (to the current
          and as has proved necessary level) whether he is unable to do so, whether he says the government should not so so, or whatever

          And- he is not scrutinising in the way he claims FAA currently is, only ‘one part of the Max’, as you say

          The FAA is certifying, or re certifying perhaps, the plane, not this or that element only

          As reported by Scott, Mr Dickson speaks of the plane (‘the level of scrutiny applied to the MAX ‘)

        • Agreed, he was saying the government cannot accomplish certification without industry assistance, although I’m sure that assistance will be under greater scrutiny now.

          Also that the MAX process is unrealistic due to the huge costs. It was necessary to ensure confidence after the accidents, but could never be routine.

          He referred to a more holistic process, meaning that even for amended type certification, there will be a greater emphasis on the aircraft as a whole, in addition to looking just at the changes. Amended types won’t go away, just handled differently to encourage a more comprehensive view. That will be applied to the 777X as the first case, I’m sure.

          • @Rob

            As always I agree with you, but not totally

            Of course he’s saying ‘we’re really going to town on this one, but can not keep that up for long’

            Perhaps : but if certification didn’t work previously, and the current intensive efforts (let’s assume) do and will work efficiently this time and maybe for the 777X as well, but not subsequently, as they can not maintained –

            In the future what does he do ? He asks someone to help? Who, above all how ? Who pays ?

            He’s not saying what will be done, even by way of ensuring proper co operation from the companies concerned, perhaps he does not know : but he seems not to know he’ll have to find out, not the hard way as with previous certification (too many people dead) not the current way (too much work and expense, he says)

            There seems little point in looking into a process and not learning how it works and may be regulated, especially if – precisely – this is your job

            Beyond inspecting this or that software or hardware the real job is putting procedures into place which function

            For example – Has this present Max certification been costed ? Have FAA & EASA and others formed any sort of alliance or agreement for future certifications ? Have the airlines agreed to contribute, if not why not ?

            A dollar per air ticket = a lot of money

          • Gerrard, he’s saying all of that hasn’t been worked out yet. It will depend on what Congress wants as well. Ultimately his job is to enforce the law, but not to write the law. He can only propose changes for ratification. The Constitution separates those powers between executive and legislative branches.

  5. Scott,

    I think your spell check has done you in once again, “Within days after the flight, the FAA and other regulators will being joint validation of Boeing’s training proposal.” I think “being” should be “begin”.

    Am interested in the issue of the FAA role in future programmes as well as this comment on handing back oversight to Boeing. I would also tend to agree with the thought that such a level of scrutiny cannot economically be repeated for every programme but what exactly is the “right” level?

    Same for oversight? How much should OEMs be allowed to oversee their own certification?

    Can the FAA go to a model where they charge OEMs for “certification support”? I mean it’s not as if we get all our government services for free. We want something from the Government, we have to pay for it. Why not the OEMs?
    What about OEMs doing tech evaluation on each other and giving results to FAA (or other certifying authorities)? Sounds like a recipe for tit for tat but with FAA et al playing referee and the concept of MAD (mutually assured destruction), could it possibly be made to work.
    Just doing some outside the box brainstorming.

    • I think there’s definitely some merit in a supranational certification agency, I think this would be of great benefit to aircraft safety.

      A body comprised of the best of each of the current agencies with a completely country / politically independent mandate would be far better than duplicating / rubber-stamping each others certifications.

      The problem with such a body, as I see it, is that some countries are more nationalistic / parochial / protective than others, i.e. they are the best, and no one should contradict them, therefore their politicians prefer to keep control over their own regulatory bodies.

      In our 21st century globalised world, it would make more sense to have the regulatory functions of the FAA, EASA, DGCA, CAAC, ANAC, TCCA etc. rolled up into one entity, with a decent budget from each country.

      Even if we kept the current budgets for each of these agencies, added together along with the benefit of having fewer staff than the total of all current staff of all agencies, a unified body would be better funded.

      Delegation to airframers is a reality, but what needs to change is the oversight / reporting. The regulator(s) need to have much more positive control over just what’s delegated, and what is reported back to them directly.

      I totally agree that the airframers should be expected to pay a fee for certification, they can certainly afford it.

      • JakDak, I agree with these comments. I think that the ODA program will get some overhaul, not just because of the MCAS issue, but because Boeing has repeatedly acted first and notified the FAA later. They’ve been fined repeatedly for this, but fines are not enough. We’ve seen that Boeing can absorb very large costs. So I think you will see that compliance being tightened.

        If I wrote the legislation, I would use the leverage of the DER. If a violation occurs, the DER would be suspended without the ability to replace or substitute another, which would bring work to a halt, unless or until the company shows why the DER was compelled to violate. A few instances of that and the DER would be encouraged to avoid a violation at all costs. In order to conduct business at all, the company would need to be compliant.

        Along with this would be a notification system. If the DER saw they could not comply, they would have the opportunity to report this beforehand. In that case there would be no DER suspension but the work would halt until the company showed positively that compliance was possible. And unless the FAA agreed that the DER was intentionally disruptive, there could be no retaliatory action against the DER, he/she would have whistleblower protection from the regulator.

        This would empower the DER to do the job they’ve been given by the FAA. Having the FAA more closely integrated with the selection and vetting process for DER would also be helpful.

        • @Rob For once I disagree with you & so will not argue the point

          Instead ask you – if the FAA is as dead as a Dodo, only Congress can act, and it becomes increasingly obvious that nothing has changed nor will

          What role will play :

          -All the investigations into the accidents and responsibilities, the DOJ, FBI and even others ? (I’m sure you have a complete list)

          -All the court cases brought by the pilots’ unions, the aircraft attendants’ unions, engineering unions’ ; and those on behalf of the victims (list as above please)

          -Is it likely that certification will provoke further legal action from airlines or lessors suing for discounts or cancellations ?

          -Why suppose that re certification will not provoke legal challenges from any of the above ?

          -Do you know by what percentage the insurance industry will raise Max premiums ?

          -Why will airlines not follow the lead provided by Emirates Airlines who have said they will ‘certify’ the 777X themselves ? Or turn to EASA, etc

          • Gerrard, I don’t accept your premises here.

            The FAA carries out the law defined by Congress, has always worked that way. No one has said that nothing will change, indeed they have said the opposite. There is change legislation pending before Congress. The FAA and various review boards have also recommended changes.

            Certification shows that an aircraft is safe, insurance rates will reflect that, and airlines will accept that as the result. Outside regulators have been invited to participate in FAA certification and that will continue as along as concerns exist. That may include the 777x as well. The FAA has said that as a result of that openness, regulators are more or less aligned.

            Legal matters have to play out in court. Boeing has already settled with many of the families and those settlements continue. Union lawsuits are difficult because they have no contractual relationship with Boeing. Airlines have contracts and have received compensation, many of them sharing with impacted employees. The only role certification plays in that is the continuing delay.

            The criminal investigations are underway and we will have to see what comes from that. It would have to be shown (as with Airbus) that there was either foreknowledge and willful intent, or criminal negligence. In the absence of that, there is unlikely to be criminal action.

            Most aviation accidents are civil matters and not criminal. There are few criminal actions because there is usually not intent and so many other factors are involved.

          • Rob, I never read so much garbage for a long time.
            With the knowledge we have now, I’m sure the buletin after JT610 was criminal. Boeing and even the FAA knew that something was very wrong and they didn’t ground the MAX killing people.
            Cheating with certifications is not negligence.
            It’s common Boeing practise, they change parts on aircraft, letting them fly commercially and later they try to certify the changes.
            The FAA announce an AD, Boeing agrees to it but Boeing keep the old process and change nothing. Not crimminal?

          • Leon, those are your opinions and you are entitled to them. They aren’t substantiated by fact. They clearly don’t represent the views or findings of the investigators or the reports. No such accusations have been made by the people who have that responsibility. Until and unless they are, there’s really nothing more to say.

          • :The FAA carries out the law defined by Congress, has always worked that way.”

            Boeing lobbied congress, congress streamlined FAA to delegate, exempt, change the law.

            The people who should know, know.

          • Keesje, blaming everything on Boeing is a simplistic view, the issues are far more complex than that. Despite all the inflammatory & accusatory rhetoric, underneath are significant issues that must be accommodated and balanced.

            There are no plans to undo the ODA system, only to modify it so as to address the problems that have occurred. If it shifted too far toward Boeing, it will be shifted back toward the FAA.

            That was the recommendation of the Review Board, and is the long-standing position of the FAA. It will be done through legislation and Boeing will have some input into that, as is proper, but by no means the only input. There are many other stakeholders, including FAA. Then the FAA will carry it out.

            If problems arise from this iteration, they will likewise undergo this process again. There is no perfect solution and there will always be room for improvement.

          • @Leon

            You are right. After JT610 FAA’s airworthiness directive and Boeing’s response were criminally inadequate.


            You are wrong. The view that FAA & Boeing failed criminally with announcing “remedy” after JT610 is common, not individual or personal. To substantiate this by fact, one of many: they “forgot” to tell that is enough to extend flaps to disactivate MCAS, which for almost sure would save ET302.

            But by your own words those are your opinions and you are entitled to them…

          • Pablo, you have never accepted the facts of the two accident flights. I’ve presented them correctly, to the best of my knowledge, with continual reference to the actual flight data.

            Opinion exists with regard to the interpretation of the facts, that’s true. I’ve given my basis for reasoning. I’ve allowed for all the complex contributions that occurred, including Boeing’s.

            Your basis is that Boeing is to blame for everything and that’s the end of it. But the data do not support that conclusion at all, not in JT043, not in JT610, and not in ET302.

            As Scott pointed out, you are not going to alter your position, so we just need to leave it at that.

      • @rob

        Dear Rob I was not arguing with you, I stated as much, and I tried not to – I accepted your premises rather than posit my own

        You are much more informative and helpful when not argued but as a source of information and a distinct point of view

        Please elaborate on the legislation before Congress, is this outside of the FAA mandate term and timeline ? Have other than the FAA and review boards submitted or been invited to submit ?

        When do you expect Congress to move on this ?

        (However) I do now surmise that the insurance companies will be compelled to take into the account the higher than before accident rate with this plane and the convoluted and perhaps controversial or disputed nature of the re certification, along with very much more risk of negative response and action in most of the world should any little thing go wrong, surely airlines would wish to increase their cover too

        We have heard a lot about investigations into the accidents, and investigations into Boeing – that’s not going to deflect for very much longer from similar scruting of airlines, their responsibilities for the planes they use and their liabilities

        Hard to see such the insurance industry use the same old rates as if nothing had happened to alter their or anybody’s else’s perception and practice of risk

        Do you see any more formal alliances or partnerships or even work sharing with other country regulators ?

        • Senators Cantwell and Duckworth have submitted a bill to implement the recommendations of the NTSB accident review report. Representative DeFazio and others are working on House legislation but are awaiting results of a current FAA survey of ODA stakeholders, as mandated by the Reauthorization Act of 2018, as well as other reviews.

          The DoT OIG has two reviews underway as requested by Congress. These are in response to the FAA Review Board report from January. The first is a review of FAA oversight practices, which seeks to independently review the findings of the Review Board (Democrats). The second is a review of FAA auditing of foreign CAA’s, as mandated since 1992, to see if pilots around the world are receiving sufficient training and are meeting standards, with special emphasis on the increasing role of automation (Republicans).

          In addition the ICAO has launched its own review of pilot training requirements, to see if they are sufficient or need to be altered in the face of increasing automation.

          Airlines insure their entire fleets together to get the best rate, and that rate includes many factors. Studies have shown that airline practices, and their related pilot training and safety culture, are the most significant factors in safety, not the type of aircraft flown. So while there may be some variation, I wouldn’t expect it to be significant, except for the airlines that suffered the accidents.

          Lastly there is an emerging view in the aviation safety community, that the existing AD process may be outdated in focusing narrowly on specific issues, and that more emphasis must be placed on addressing issues via SMS.

          If an organization lacks SMS or safety culture, then AD’s are basically playing whack-a-mole. If it has a good SMS and safety culture, that does far more to enhance safety than specific AD’s. Even more so as automation and complexity advances.

          This has been proven time and again, and is largely the difference between Western and non-Western organizations, rather than the inherent natural abilities of individuals, which of course are uniform around the world. SMS requires investment and commitment that has developed slowly over time in the Western world, so that world should now help its foreign partners to achieve the same success, in much less time. This was done with Korean Air with great success, it can happen elsewhere too.

          The issues wih Boeing can also be viewed in terms of SMS and safety culture. Some of the investigations of Boeing are leaning that way, looking into the culture, and recommendations from that would be a good thing. I’m sure Boeing would welcome that, at this point. They’ve already tried to do some of this, but an external review might add insight and eliminate blind spots.

          For example, Calhoun has mentioned Forkner & friends as being a micro-culture within Boeing. But safety cultures shouldn’t have micro-cultures, safety has to be a uniform approach. That’s the whole point of a culture. So it’s an indication of problems with SMS.

          The FAA has an opportunity to lead in that effort, along with EASA and other advanced CAA’s. Just depends on willingness to change and move forward into a safer era.

          The NTSB has characterized the problem well, it applies equally to all elements of aviation; manufacturing, airlines, & pilots:

          “The most fundamental lesson that we have learned from our accident investigation experience is that introducing automation into complex human-centric systems can be very challenging…The problems that we have seen thus far from increasing automation include increasing complexity, degradation of skills, complacency, and the potential loss of professionalism.”

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