As Europe’s aviation regulator outlines five major requirements Boeing Co. is to address before its 737 Max is readmitted to service, one of them, the jet’s autopilot function issue, hasn’t previously been mentioned as an area of concern, reports Bloomberg citing a person familiar with the matter.
The European regulator has found that the autopilot doesn’t always properly disengage, which could mean that pilots wouldn’t have the time to intervene before the plane begins stalling.
The source, requesting anonymity, said the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has sent its list to both the US Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing.
The issues being raised by the EASA are consistent with the FAA’s own questions, said a person familiar with the work of the US agency.
Since the FAA is yet to publicly discuss details about what changes it’s demanding on the Max, one can only guess whether the EASA demands differ dramatically and if this might entail greater expenses and delay in getting the Max back in the skies.
In a statement, the FAA declined to confirm the specific matters being raised by the EASA but said:
“The FAA continues to work closely with other validating civil aviation authorities on our review of Boeing’s certification documentation for the 737 MAX. This process involves regular communications among all parties.”
The EASA’s checklist features several earlier disclosed issues such as potential difficulties experienced by pilots in turning the jet’s manual trim wheel, unreliability of the Max’s angle of attack sensors, flawed training procedures, and a lagging microprocessor software issue raised just last week by the FAA.
What does conspicuously stand out is the previously unreported concern over the autopilot system failing to disengage in certain emergencies.
“Any of these could significantly affect the return to service, but we don’t know if they are actually going to become requirements or are they just items for discussion,’’ said John Cox, president of the aviation consulting company Safety Operating Systems.
Regarding the previously unmentioned autopilot concern Cox said altering a system as complex as that could have certain ramifications, but claimed he was unaware of any safety issues with the autopilot that would justify such an action.
The EASA list excludes several other smaller issues that the agency hasn’t flagged as critical.
The review has become a focal point for determining when the plane will be readmitted to service, as the FAA faces investigations over its handling of the original certification of the Max and the so-called Manuevering Characteristics Augmentation System, implicated in both crashes that led to the grounding of the plane.
On the embattled model's relaunch issue, according to people familiar with the matter, the FAA, EASA and Canada and Brazil have forged a tentative agreement to closely coordinate the return to service, in a bid to work towards restoring public trust in the global aviation safety system.
Boeing has been assuring customers and industry officials that it anticipates the plane will be back in service by September, assuming software fixes for all major concerns implicated in the two crashes as well as the latest flaw identified with the microprocessor, are dealt with by that time, said an informed source.
The global Max fleet was grounded in March following two fatal crashes. An Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 plane crashed after takeoff, killing all 157 passengers and crew on board. That crash came just five months after the October 2018 crash of a Lion Air 737 Max 8, which killed all 189 people on board.
A malfunction of the plane’s automated flight-control system, called MCAS, was implicated in both tragedies.