US-UAE aviation regulators to meet on Boeing 737 Max, FAA chief says

Exclusive: Meeting to discuss Max re-entry into regional airspace could be held within weeks

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - November 20, 2019: Round table with Steve Dickson, Federal aviation administration administrator. Wednesday, November 20th, 2017 at Dubai Airshow, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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US and UAE aviation regulators plan to meet with Gulf authorities to discuss the return of flydubai's grounded Boeing 737 Max fleet to the region's airspace once the ban lifts, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The timing of the meeting is yet to be scheduled, depending on the jet certification process, and could be held in the next three weeks, Steve Dickson, the FAA administrator told The National. This followed the FAA's meeting with flydubai and the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority last week.

"We understand they want to get the plane back in service, they were also concerned with some of the markets they operate into that don't have Max, that they're able to do that," Mr Dickson said.

"So we're looking at working with the GCAA on a regional session where we can bring a couple of our experts in and make sure that even those states that don't have Max operators understand how the decisions are made."

The GCAA said it discussed with the FAA and Boeing ways to ensure neighbouring countries that do not operate the Max are still informed about the procedures to return the aircraft safely to commercial flights. They reached an understanding the issue needs to be addressed in addition to current talks with Max-operating countries.

"It is important for us to ensure that once the aircraft is returned to service, after all the safety issues have been addressed, that the return to service is smooth and harmonised," Ismaeil Mohammed Al Blooshi, assistant director general of Aviation Safety Affairs at the GCAA, told The National.

"We will support the FAA and open a dialogue with all the states in the regions with the objective of creating the required awareness. We feel that this will allow all the states to take an informed decision regarding the Boeing 737 Max, we want to allow everyone to have firsthand access to the right information from the source which is FAA."

A flydubai spokeswoman said: "The certification of the Max aircraft is a matter for the regulator."

The 737 Max jet was involved in two deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that led to a global grounding of the Max fleet since March. The tragedies raised questions about the jet's certification process and the dealings between the US plane maker and the regulator. Boeing is working on a on a fix to the Max's flight-automation software that was involved in both disasters and has said it is aiming for FAA approval by year-end to fly the plane again.

The FAA in its meeting with the UAE airline and regulator sought to update them on its audit of the 737 Max.

"The message is first of all I'm going to fly the airplane before I sign off on it and we're going to follow the process," Mr Dickson said.

In Dubai last week, the FAA chief said his meeting with flydubai and the GCAA was "very constructive."

"We want to make sure all the operators in all the countries where the airplane will be operating into and out of have full visibility into how the process works," he said.

The UAE is part of the Joint Authorities Technical Review, a panel of international air safety regulators commissioned by the FAA in April to look into the agency's oversight and approval of the Max's flight control system.

"They want to increase their ability to conduct validation activities going forward as a regulator," Mr Dickson said.

The FAA chief reiterated that the agency is not following a specific timeline for returning the Max to service.

"We are going to make sure that we are very methodical and very diligent," he said. "We are not delegating anything in this process."