FAA chief vows MAX will not fly until it is safe for his family

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September 18, 2019
FAA MAX family
FAA administrator Steve Dickson. Image: CNBC

New Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson has vowedthat the 737 MAX will not fly again unless he would be happy to fly it himself and put his family on it.

Dickson, a qualified pilot who told CNBC he was heading to Seattle to review the Boeing changes and fly the MAX simulator with modified software himself, said there was no specific timeline for getting the grounded plane back into the air.

“We still have not seen the final systems description and safety analysis from Boeing,’’ he said in the exclusive CNBC interview. “We expect to get that in the coming days and then we’ll see where we go from there.

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The 737 MAX fleet has been grounded since March after two fatal crashes involving Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines that raised questions about flight control software that Boeing has since modified.

The crashes have spawned several investigations as well as more than 100 lawsuits on behalf of the families of the 346 victims of the two crashes.

They have also raised questions about Boeing and the FAA were too close and prompted other regulators to say they will independently review changes the MAX’s software and training.

Commenting on the suggestions other regulators would take longer the review MAX, Dickson said the process had been transparent and had involved an unprecedented number of international aviation certification safety authorities.

He said the FAA was working hard to ensure everyone was aligned.

“Ultimately, validating the work of other certification authorities is not anything unusual,’’ he said. “We do it with respect to other certifications and other jurisdictions around the world and I certainly would welcome that.’’

Dickson said he was qualified on the 737 as well as a number of other aircraft and he was anxious to get out to Seattle later this week “and see where we are and looking into the certification process’’.

“And I can guarantee you that the airplane will not be flying again until I’m satisfied that it is the safest out there,’’ he said.

The new FAA boss said there appeared to be a common thread between the Ethiopian and Lion Air crashes but it was important that people did not pre-judge the root cause.

He said the tragedies had provided a situation for the FAA to look at its processes, examine how they were executed and put in any appropriate changes.

On the question of whether the FAA and Boeing were too close, Dickson said it was important the two were able to collaborate and he did not think that “delegation per se as a concept is a bad thing’’.

“I think actually makes the agency a more effective regulator and it makes the manufacturer (a) more effective and safer manufacturer,’’ he added.

“But how it was implemented in this particular case, and in general, those of the kinds of things we need to look at to make sure that there aren’t gaps in the processes and to make sure it’s absolutely as tight as it can be.’’

On the question of convincing the flying public that the MAX is safe, Dickson said: “Certainly my job again is to make sure that we follow the process that the airplane is safe for us to fly not only in the US with US pilots but around the world.

“And as a pilot myself, I can tell you that I will not allow this airplane to fly unless I would fly it myself and put my own family on it. And that’s my commitment.”