BRUSSELS: Europe’s air safety watchdog has no firm date for Boeing’s grounded 737 MAX to resume flights, it said on Tuesday, adding that the US planemaker had some more work to do before a 17-month-old safety ban could be lifted in Europe.
The US Federal Aviation Administration on Monday issued a proposed directive requiring four design or operating changes in the wake of two fatal 737 MAX crashes, in a move which could lead to the agency lifting a grounding order on the jet later this year.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) declined to comment directly on the FAA documents, but said it was still waiting to conduct its own test flights before the commercial ban could be lifted in Europe.
“We are still working to conduct our test flights, scheduling of which has been hampered by the travel restrictions due to COVID-19,” a spokeswoman said by email.
“The test flights are a prerequisite for EASA to approve the return to service of the 737 MAX in Europe.”
EASA reiterated it would only return the aircraft to service once it felt it was safe.
“In general, good progress has been made but there is still some work which Boeing needs to complete,” the spokeswoman said.
“In the light of this position, and in common with the FAA, we cannot yet predict a firm schedule for the return to service and the ungrounding of the aircraft in Europe.”
EASA scrutiny is one of a number of hurdles to a widespread return to service, including getting Canadian approval and a public comment period of 45 days on the FAA’s proposed changes, as well as finalizing a new set of pilot-training procedures.
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun told analysts last week he expected MAX deliveries to resume in the fourth quarter, comments that were interpreted as a suggesting that the US return to service could slip into next year.
In a related development, Kuwait’s aircraft leasing company Alafco said on Tuesday it will buy fewer aircraft from Boeing after reaching an agreement to end its legal claim over a canceled 737 MAX order.
Alafco was suing the US planemaker for $336 million over accusations it wrongly refused to return advance payments on a canceled order for 40 of its troubled 737 MAX planes.
The Kuwaiti lessor will now buy 20 aircraft from Boeing, instead of 40, with new delivery dates, it said in a bourse filing.
Additional details of the agreement could not be disclosed due to confidentiality clauses, it said.
Alafco said it was “looking forward to a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship with Boeing.”
Boeing suspended deliveries of its narrow-body 737 MAX jet in March last year, when the FAA grounded the aircraft after the deaths of 346 people in crashes of two 737 MAX planes operated by Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines.
The crisis over the grounding of the once top-selling 737 MAX has cost the US planemaker more than $19 billion, slashed production and hobbled its supply chain, with criminal and congressional investigations still ongoing.