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A decision to unground the 737 MAX may be just over a week away. But, while it implements needed changes, more headaches await for Boeing. This time it’s a matter of trade, not airworthiness.

In a briefing to Reuters, commenting on more sources, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson stated that the agency will complete the process “in the coming days”. The timeline Reuters got for its sources put the MAX’s return as close as November 18th.

Coordinating efforts with other aviation authorities appears to loom large in FAA’s timing. All sides want to avoid further controversy, so the aim is to get the 737s back to service everywhere. Or in as many places as possible.

The decision to ground the 737 MAX affected both Boeing and the FAA’s reputation, as the relevant administrative authority. They are still keen to state that there is no firm timeline and that the aircraft will return to service when everyone is satisfied that it is up to standard.

The FAA continues to engage with aviation authorities around the world as they prepare to validate our certification decision”, Dickson said.

American Airlines 737 MAX in storage

To actually return to service, the previously grounded 737 MAX needs to receive necessary software and other modifications. This is a process that will still take time to implement over the entire fleet of grounded aircraft.

Limited flights with a few aircraft will be possible soon, however. American Airlines have already planned such flights over the coming holidays. Southwest (who have more MAXes than anyone else) currently plan to use the planes in the second quarter of 2021. In general, airlines are waiting for the FAA’s green light, before announcing scheduling details.

 

Europe’s 737 MAX Hurdle

In Europe, EASA (Europe’s Aviation Authority) actually beat the FAA in predicting the 737 MAX’s return. This was crucial. Boeing and others previously expected additional change requests for the aircraft. It now seems that while EASA would like additional changes, they expect to see them over time. That timeline will probably coincide with the certification and introduction of the 737 MAX 10 in service. This model first flew after the aircraft were grounded.

So the newest headache for Boeing and its customer airlines is not regulatory. It comes from EU’s decision to impose tariffs up to 15% on deliveries of new Boeing aircraft. With Boeing having several hundreds of 737 MAX aircraft due for delivery, this is a big deal.

Boeing falling further behind Airbus?

The timing of this decision and the US election last week is far from coincidental. The World Trade Organisation approved these tariffs over a month ago. EU authorities waited for the US elections, hoping for ‘feelers’ from the US for a more conciliatory negotiating climate. But since the change in government won’t happen until January 20th, some question this timing.

A 15% hike in price will not go well with any European airlines expecting 737 MAX deliveries. Lessors for these and for 787 aircraft warn that the move is crucial, for an industry already in trouble. But it seems that on both sides of the Atlantic, everyone wants the tariffs to go away. For this to happen, US tariffs on Airbus aircraft will also have to go away.

We will see how this matter develops. It now seems likely that in the coronavirus slowdown, some airlines will simply wait a bit longer. On the plus side, after the covid-19 crisis, a return to trade tussles between manufacturers will almost feel normal…

Sources here and here