Federal approval for Boeing’s 737 MAX to resume service is an enormous milestone for the company, its workers and Washington’s aerospace industry.
Yet there is still much more work ahead for Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration to repair their reputations as world leaders in aviation safety.
The FAA on Wednesday approved Boeing’s fixes for flaws in its best-selling plane that led to crashes in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people.
Substantial changes were made to the problematic flight control system implicated in the crashes. New pilot training is required and both Boeing and the FAA pledged new approaches to their safety and certification processes.
The MAX should be far safer after extraordinary scrutiny of its overhaul by regulators around the world, independent experts, airlines and pilot unions.
Aviation regulators in Europe and Canada are still demanding further improvements but the MAX may be flying passengers in the U.S. before year-end.
Then begins the harder task of convincing the world that Boeing has fixed itself, and that the FAA is reformed and less cozy with America’s largest plane maker.
Restoring trust and their reputations for excellence may take years and potentially another generation of airliners.
Since the first MAX crash, “Boeing has suffered through a relentless litany of damning revelations, scathing investigation reports and discoveries of problems that delayed this moment,” the Times’ aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote in Wednesday’s story.
Restoring Boeing’s share of the single-aisle airliner market is unlikely until a new model is produced, potentially in 2023 or 2024, said aviation analyst Scott Hamilton of Leeham News and Analysis.
“The only way that Boeing is going to come back with that is to produce a new airplane,” he told this editorial board.
This is a national concern. Boeing airplanes are a flagship export and their quality, and federal certification, reflect on the quality of U.S. products.
Congress is making overdue but welcome progress on strengthening the safety oversight system. The House on Tuesday approved the bipartisan Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett. On Wednesday, the Senate advanced its Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
Boeing has reorganized its engineering organization and says it has further empowered engineers to improve safety.
CEO David Calhoun on Wednesday said the tragedies and lessons learned “have reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity.”
That’s good to hear. But it will take time for Boeing to prove that it fixed its culture and demonstrate whether safety and engineering excellence are again its paramount duty, not shareholder value.
One test will come with the next plane. Will Boeing continue building where there are experienced and skilled workers and deep technical expertise, or seek locales offering cheaper labor?
Meanwhile, the FAA’s approval to resume 737 MAX service is an important step for reviving Boeing and sustaining Washington’s aerospace industry as commercial aviation struggles through the pandemic.