MCAS, The Aircraft Certification Act and the unintended consequences of Congressional Intervention

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 By the Leeham News team

March 30, 2023, © Leeham News: Boeing is suffering delays getting the 737-7, 737-10, and 777X certifications completed.

Airbus delayed the certification of the A321XLR over the design of its integral fuel tank. Boeing has gotten the brunt of the blame for its delays, a stance not without some merit. Airbus is fully responsible for the design and integration of the XLR fuel tank. But, unlike Boeing, less has been said about the certification delays of the XLR than the Boeing aircraft.

These delays may not be completely the fault of the manufacturers.

A brief history. We know that two 737 MAXes were lost due to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) overpowering the flight crew's ability to hand fly the airplane, although there were contributing factors. Congress got involved and demanded that the industry refocus on the safety of the flying public. The end result was the creation and passage of the Aircraft Certification, Safety and Accountability Act (ACSAA). This legislation mandated changes to how the Federal Aviation Administration oversees the manufacture of Transport Category Aircraft and set timelines for implementation.

We also need to remember that the industry is much larger than Boeing and Airbus. All manufacturers from those building agricultural aircraft and piston-powered helicopters and bizjets all the way through to Large Tier 1 subcontractors such as Spirit Aerospace and avionics manufacturers must respond to these changes. The Act affects everybody.

The addition of EICAS

We have seen references to the act and how it set a timeline for a monitoring program called Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System, or EICAS, and its implementation. A deadline of last December was included in the ACSAA, adopted two years before. The inclusion of EICAS was adopted on the assumption Boeing would certify the MAX 7 and MAX 10 before the deadline. Exempting these two MAXes at the time was approved because the MAX 8 and MAX 9 were already certified without EICAS, and cockpit commonality was considered important among the four types.

But Boeing was unable to complete certification of the MAX 7 and MAX 10 in time. Steeped in controversy, Congress in January continued the exemption to September this year.

Certification by the deadline of the MAX 10, the last in the family, was always deemed a challenge because the -10 hadn’t entered flight testing at the time of the legislation’s approval. But the MAX 7 was well into its flight testing. People couldn’t understand why Boeing was unable to certify the MAX 7 before the end of last year.

An analysis by LNA lifts the veil on this mystery.

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