(28 Jan 2021)
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has
given its seal of approval for the return to service of a modified
version of the Boeing 737 MAX, mandating a package of software
upgrades, electrical working rework, maintenance checks,
operations manual updates and crew training which will allow the
plane to fly safely in European skies after almost two years on
the ground.

“We have reached a significant milestone on a long
road,” said EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky. “Following extensive analysis by EASA, we have determined that the 737 MAX
can safely return to service. This assessment was carried out in
full independence of Boeing or the Federal Aviation Administration
and without any economic or political pressure – we asked
difficult questions until we got answers and pushed for solutions
which satisfied our exacting safety requirements. We carried out
our own flight tests and simulator sessions and did not rely on
others to do this for us.

Boeing 737 MAX 7. Picture by Steven Howard of TravelNewsAsia.com Click to enlarge.

“Let me be quite clear that this
journey does not end here,” he added. “We have every confidence
that the aircraft is safe, which is the precondition for giving
our approval. But we will continue to monitor 737 MAX operations
closely as the aircraft resumes service. In parallel, and at our
insistence, Boeing has also committed to work to enhance the
aircraft still further in the medium term, in order to reach an
even higher level of safety.”

The Boeing 737 MAX was
grounded worldwide in March 2019 following the second of two
accidents within just six months, which together claimed 346
lives.

The root cause of these tragic accidents was traced to
software known as the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics
Augmentation System), intended to make the plane easier to handle.
However, the MCAS, guided by only one Angle of Attack (AoA)
sensor, kicked in repeatedly if that sensor malfunctioned, pushing
the nose of the aircraft downward multiple times. In both
accidents, pilots finally lost control of their plane, resulting
in a crash with total loss of aircraft.

In the days after the grounding,
EASA set four conditions for the return to service of the
aircraft:

– The two accidents (JT610 and ET302) are deemed
sufficiently understood;

– Design changes proposed by Boeing to
address the issues highlighted by the accidents are EASA approved
and their embodiment is mandated;

– An independent extended design
review has been completed by EASA; and

– Boeing 737 MAX flight crews
have been adequately trained.

“These four conditions have now
all been met, allowing us to go ahead with the return to service,”
Ky said.

While the investigations assessed that the
behaviour of the MCAS and related alerting systems were the clear
main cause of the two crashes, EASA rapidly realised that a far
wider review of the 737 MAX was needed. EASA therefore extended
its analysis to the entire flight control system. With a
particular focus on the human factors – the actual experience for
a pilot of flying the plane.

This extended review,
conducted in close cooperation with FAA as primary certification
authority, and with Boeing as manufacturer, continued to evolve
over the course of the 20-month exercise. Its findings led to the
definition of the broad package of actions specified in the
Airworthiness Directive.

“The mandated actions need to be
seen as a complete package which together ensure the aircraft’s
safety,” Ky said. “This is not just about changes to the design of
the aircraft: every individual 737 MAX pilot needs to undergo a
once-off special training, including simulator training, to ensure
that they are fully familiar with the redesigned 737 MAX and
trained to handle specific scenarios which may arise in flight.
This will be reinforced by recurrent training to ensure the
knowledge is kept fresh.”

EASA has also agreed with Boeing
that the manufacturer will work to even further increase the
resilience of the aircraft systems to AoA sensor failures so as to
further enhance the safety of the aircraft. Boeing will also
conduct a complementary Human Factor assessment of its crew
alerting system within the next 12 months, with the aim of
identifying the need for longer term improvements.

Resumption of Boeing 737 MAX Flights in Europe

The Airworthiness Directive,
which details the aircraft and operational suitability changes,
including crew training requirements, must be carried out before
each individual plane returns to service, gives the green light
from the EASA side for a return to service of the aircraft.

However, scheduling of these mandated actions is a matter for
the aircraft operators, under the oversight of Member States’
national aviation authorities, meaning that the actual return to
service may take some time. COVID-19 may also have an influence on
the pace of return to commercial operations.

In conjunction
with the Airworthiness Directive, EASA also issued a Safety
Directive (SD) requiring non-European airlines which are holders
of EASA third country operator (TCO) authorisation to implement
equivalent requirements, including aircrew training. This will
allow for the return to service of the 737 MAX when the aircraft
concerned are operated under an EASA TCO authorisation into,
within or out of the territory of the EASA Member States.

In summary, the EASA Airworthiness
Directive mandates the following main actions:

– Software
updates for the flight control computer, including the MCAS;


Software updates to display an alert in case of disagreement
between the two AoA sensors;

– Physical separation of wires routed
from the cockpit to the stabiliser trim motor;

– Updates to flight
manuals: operational limitations and improved procedures to equip
pilots to understand and manage all relevant failure scenarios


Mandatory training for all 737 MAX pilots before they fly the
plane again, and updates of the initial and recurrent training of
pilots on the MAX;

– Tests of systems including the AoA sensor
system; and

– An operational readiness flight, without passengers,
before commercial usage of each aircraft to ensure that all design
changes have been correctly implemented and the aircraft
successfully and safely brought out of its long period of storage.

EASA, and regulators in Canada and Brazil, worked closely with
the FAA and Boeing throughout the last 20 months to return the
plane safely to operations. The three authorities have already
approved the aircraft for the return to service.

The EASA
AD requires the same physical changes to the aircraft as the FAA,
meaning that there will be no software or technical differences
between the aircraft operated by the United States operators and
by the EASA member states operators (the 27 European Union members
plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).

Following
the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the UK
Civil Aviation Authority is now responsible for clearing the
aircraft to operate to/from and within the U.K as well as for U.K. operators.

However, EASA’s requirements differ from the
FAA in two main respects. EASA explicitly allows flight crews to
intervene to stop a stick shaker from continuing to vibrate once
it has been erroneously activated by the system, to prevent this
distracting the crew. EASA also, for the time being, mandates that
certain types of high-precision landings cannot be performed. The
latter is expected to be a short-term restriction. The mandated training for pilots is broadly the same for both authorities.

Some EASA member states issued their own decision prohibiting
the operation of the 737 MAX last year for their sovereign
airspace. These bans will need to be lifted before the aircraft
can fly again in the airspace of those countries.

See latest

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and other
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COVID19,

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