Boeing Preaches Safety Ethic as Work on Max 7, Max 10 Persists

 - October 4, 2022, 3:02 PM
The Boeing 737 Max 7 finished flight testing last year. (Photo: Boeing)

Boeing continues to insist it won’t let what it calls an arbitrary deadline to complete certification of the 737 Max 7 and Max 10 influence the timing of its paperwork exercise with the FAA, despite the real possibility of a compromise in commonality between those airplanes and the Max 8, Max 9, and 737NG. At issue remains a legislative requirement that would require Boeing to install a new engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS) in the Max 7 and Max 10 if it does not meet the year-end deadline, an eventuality that appears ever more likely, particularly in the larger of the two airplanes.

In a September 19 letter sent to Boeing vice president of Max return to service Mike Fleming, FAA Aircraft Certification Service director of aviation safety Lirio Liu noted that the agency had accepted only 10 percent of the required system safety assessments (SSAs) for the Max 7 while 70 percent remained in various stages of review and revision. “Most concerning” to Liu, however, Boeing hadn’t yet submitted six outstanding SSAs.

“As you are aware, the FAA communicated that Boeing must turn in all remaining system safety assessments (SSA) by mid-September if the company intends to meet its project plan of completing certification work (and receiving FAA approval for this airplane) by December 2022,” wrote Liu.

Given that Boeing hadn’t yet submitted all the SSAs by that time, Liu’s warning suggests that not only will the Max 7 not meet the December deadline, but neither will the Max 10, which remains in flight testing. The Max 7 finished its flight testing last year. Furthermore, while the Max 7 now features virtual full commonality with the Max 8 and Max 9, the Max 10 carries longer and heavier main landing gear to accommodate its extra length and, perhaps more significantly, an enhanced angle of attack sensor to address design concerns stemming from the twin crashes of the Max 8 in October 2018 and March 2019.

An excerpt of Boeing’s September 22 response to the FAA provided to AIN on condition of anonymity indicated that the company initially submitted the SSAs for the Max 7 to the FAA in October 2021. The letter also noted that Boeing followed FAA direction to instruct its engineering unit members (E-UMs) to undertake a second review and approval of the associated SSAs.

“This secondary review significantly increased the efforts of our teams, and we appreciate the clarifying letter you sent last week advising you were not looking for a new means of compliance, and that any questions of compliance should be addressed through the existing guidance,” said the letter. “We are applying this clarification going forward.”

The excerpt also indicates that of the 26 or 32 SSAs Boeing submitted between March and July of this year, the FAA has completed its review of three. The company revised and resubmitted 13 to address FAA comments and the company continues work on another 10 in preparation for resubmittal. As of September 22, Boeing continued to prepare and review the final six SSAs ahead of their submittal.

Addressing reporters during one of a series of briefings held in the Puget Sound area in mid-June, Fleming expressed satisfaction with the progress of the Max 10 in flight testing but conceded that whether or not the airplane gained type inspection authorization (TIA) in time for certification by the end of the year rested with the FAA’s approval of development assurance work, during which Boeing needed to complete items such as fault hazard analysis. Despite the time pressure that resulted from the legislation known as the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act (ACSAA), Fleming stressed that Boeing would not rush through any of the required steps. Addressing a question about whether he personally thought Boeing would win certification by the end of the year, he answered, “it’s indeterminate.”

Reuters reported late Monday that a letter from FAA administrator Billy Nolan to Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker indicated that Boeing does not expect Max 10 certification until sometime next summer. Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, proposed an amendment to this year’s defense appropriations bill that would give Boeing until September 2024 to complete its work on the two airplanes before the ACSAA provision that calls for EICAS takes effect.

For its part, Boeing continues to cite safety as the “driving factor” in the certification effort and laments the safety compromise that the loss of commonality between various submodels of the 737 would cause by a need to install an EICAS in the Max 7 and Max 10.

“Safety gains in commercial aviation over several decades have demonstrated that a consistent operational experience across an airplane family is an industry best practice that benefits flight crews and the flying public by enhancing safety and reducing risk,” concluded Boeing.