FAA chief upbeat after piloting Boeing 737 MAX test flight, but says 'still work to do'
Federal Aviation Administration administrator Steve Dickson said he "liked what I saw" after flying a modified Boeing 737 MAX for 40 minutes over Washington state on Wednesday.
The flight, while not part of the regulator's official re-certification effort for the MAX, is a visible key step towards returning the jet to passenger service. The 737 MAX has been grounded for more than a year-and-a-half following two fatal crashes that took the lives of 346 people.
“At the end of the day I’m a pilot," Dickson said during a post-flight briefing. "It was important to me to experience first-hand the training and the handling of the aircraft so I could have the most complete understanding possible as we continue to move forward with this process.”
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“We still have some work to do yet," added Dickson.
The FAA must complete a review of public comments on its proposed re-certification ruling that was issued in August. In addition, it must review the findings of the Joint Operations Evaluation Board (JOEB), which includes regulators from Brazil, Canada and Europe. Only then can the FAA issue a final decision returning the MAX to service.
Dickson declined to provide a target date for when the re-certification process will be complete, something that has slipped repeatedly in the past.
In July, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun forecast a fourth quarter return for the MAX pending FAA sign off.
Related: Boeing delays 777X, 737 MAX timeline as COVID hits business
While no return-to-service date is set, airlines are selling seats on the MAX even as they regularly push back the date. Air Canada is selling MAX flights from Oct. 26, with Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines and WestJet all selling flights from November, according to Cirium schedules.
However, in July, Southwest chief operating officer Michael Van de Ven said that the airline would need a little over two months to retrain pilots before it could resume flying the MAX. With training unable to begin until the FAA finalizes its ruling, it is difficult to see the MAX returning at at least Southwest until early 2021.
“We’re in the home stretch but that doesn’t mean we’re going to take short cuts," Dickson said.
Related: FAA move could have Boeing 737 MAX flying again this fall