Wednesday afternoon, the FAA issued a statement saying it had, in conjunction with its appointed Technical Advisory Board (TAB), identified a “potential risk” that Boeing would have to address before the agency would proceed in ungrounding the 737 MAX 8 fleet.
“The FAA is following a thorough process, not a prescribed timeline, for returning the Boeing 737 Max to passenger service. The FAA will lift the aircraft’s prohibition order when we deem it is safe to do so,” the administration’s release reads.
The FAA went on to highlight that it is continuing to review Boeing’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), the state-of-the-art software that, along with improper training, was deemed responsible for the downings of both of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which killed 189 and 149 people, respectively.
Speaking to Reuters, sources said to be close to the ongoing certification process claim the undisclosed risk occurred during a simulator test last week. As a result, Boeing will reportedly be forced to delay the actual test flight for airworthiness until “July 8 at the earliest.”
Shortly after Boeing’s announcement, United Airlines published a statement announcing at least 1,290 flights in July and 1,900 trips in August would be canceled, as the airline is suspending all scheduled 737 MAX flights until September 3, in accordance with the anticipated timetable. Both Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, the other two US airlines that operate 737 MAX 8s, announced earlier this month that they would be canceling flights using the plane until September as well.
The FAA’s news also comes exactly one week after pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger delivered his testimony against the Boeing 737 MAX 8’s initial certification process before a House Transportation Subcommittee panel.
“Our current system of aircraft design and certification has failed us,” Sullenberger noted during his testimony, admonishing the FAA and Boeing. “It is clear that the original version of MCAS was fatally flawed and should never have been approved.”
It’s not clear if the hearing and criticism of the certification process were the motives behind the announcement, or if the timing is simply a coincidence.
Though the FAA claims there is no “timetable” for the certification, sources said to be close to the matter told Reuters that the FAA will take “two to three weeks” to review the plane again after the issue is addressed.