FAA has no ‘specific timetable’ to approve Boeing 737 MAX 7 -administrator

By David Shepardson and Valerie Insinna

ARLINGTON, Virginia (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration has no “specific timetable” to certify the Boeing 737 MAX 7, the agency’s top official told Reuters on Tuesday, despite the planemaker previously expecting that to occur by the end of this year.

FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker said the agency will certify the smallest variant of the best-selling MAX when “we have all the data that we need and it is safe.”

Whitaker added that he is making sure he is getting briefed “on status, to understand the issues that are arising in that process” on the MAX 7 and other projects.

Whitaker said “the issues are being worked and that will continue.”

Boeing declined to comment on whether its schedule projections had changed.

“We will follow the lead of the FAA as we work through the certification process. The FAA will determine when all certification requirements are met,” the company said.

In October, company executives said its schedule remained unchanged. Boeing is also awaiting certification of the larger 737 MAX 10.

Southwest Airlines, the largest customer for the MAX 7, said last month it expected the FAA to certify the plane by April.

Boeing is currently pursuing an exemption to certain regulations concerning the MAX 7’s engine nacelle inlet structure and engine anti-ice system, which are the same as those used by the in-service MAX 8.

The exemption – which would run until May 31, 2026 – would allow MAX 7 certification while Boeing also certifies design changes for both systems, necessary to fix issues involving the overheating of the engine anti-ice system that could cause structural damage to the engine nacelle.

The FAA is accepting comments on the proposed exemption through Dec. 26.

The FAA said last month it would require key flight control design changes to be considered “major” like the system involved in two fatal MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019.

In late 2020, Congress passed sweeping legislation reforming how the FAA certifies new airplanes, including requiring manufacturers to disclose certain safety-critical information, such as information on systems that manipulate flight controls without direct pilot input or commands.

A 2020 report from Congress said: “Boeing failed in its design and development of the MAX, and the FAA failed in its oversight of Boeing and its certification of the aircraft.”

Whitaker said the FAA needs to “be constantly looking for other ways to continuously improve the process, raising visibility of issues for certification as they come in.”

The FAA must also think about new technologies “and how do we verify they are safe,” he said.

Whitaker said the MAX crashes caused the FAA to have a “heightened level of vigilance.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Mark Porter, Tomasz Janowski and Jamie Freed)