UAE regulator says Boeing 737 Max unlikely to fly until early 2020

General Civil Aviation Authority to conduct its own checks for the jet's re-certification rather than simply rely on the US FAA

A Boeing Co. 737 MAX8 aircraft, operated by FlyDubai, stands on the tarmac during the 15th Dubai Air Show at Dubai World Central (DWC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. The biennial Dubai expo is an important venue for manufacturers to secure deals for their biggest and most expensive jetliners. Photographer: Natalie Naccache/Bloomberg

The UAE aviation regulator said Boeing 737 Max is unlikely to return to commercial service before the first quarter of 2020, a timeline that surpasses the fourth-quarter target set by the US plane manufacturer.

Saif Al Suwaidi, director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority, said he was “not very optimistic” about the jet resuming flights by the end of this year.

The GCAA will conduct its own checks on the grounded aircraft, rather than follow the US Federal Aviation Authority, before approving its return to the country's airspace and airports, Mr Al Suwaidi said yesterday.

Boeing said last week the aircraft may return on a "phased" timetable if regulators worldwide make decisions at their own pace, without following US guidelines. The 737 Max narrow-body has been grounded since March after two fatal crashes involving the plane within the span of five months killed a total of 346 people. A lack of alignment between global regulators to approve the jet's return to the service, marked by a growing divide between the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the FAA, may extend the grounding.

The GCAA will take into account the FAA's assessment of the 737 Max's airworthiness to help in its own decision making and is waiting for Boeing's proposed fixes.

"We are looking to see complete solutions for the challenges they have and once we receive a comprehensive solution, then we will start our study," Mr Al Suwaidi said. "Once they do their part, we will do our part."

Low-cost airline Flydubai is a major Max customer with 250 of the popular single-aisle jet on order.

The FAA has traditionally led the certification of US-made aircraft but regulators in Europe, Canada, Brazil and China have signalled they would undertake their own checks.

The next few months are crucial for Boeing, facing the worst crisis in its 103-year history as it approaches the six-month mark since its planes were banned from commercial flight globally.

Touching on other matters, Mr Al Suwaidi said he expects certification of Abu Dhabi's new Midfield Terminal to be complete by the end of this year.

The GCAA chief also said that the attacks on two Saudi Aramco facilities have not resulted in any changes to flight routes.