Sunday, 31 January 2021

UK's CAA clears 737 MAX to fly again in UK airspace

Significant changes to the aircraft and pilot training have been made
CAA decision follows similar approvals from European and US regulators
CAA will have full review of UK airline plans to return the aircraft to service
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced last week that it will allow UK airlines to operate passenger flights with the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft again after a grounding that lasted nearly two years, after poor design and substandard safety systems caused the two fatal crashed that claimed the lives of more than 300 people. First the Lion Air crash of Flight 610 on October 29, 2018, and then the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019.

The CAA has also lifted the ban on the 737 MAX from flying in UK airspace,  which could see the likes of Canadian airline's WestJet and Air Canada deploying the twin jet on transatlantic routes. Icelandair is currently evaluating whether to put its MAX jets back into service to European destinations.  

Lifting the ban on 737 MAX operations was largely out of the CAA's hands, and was to a large extent, just a rubber stamp exercise as they simply followed advice from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transport Canada.

The CAA confirmed it based its decision to the 737 MAX back in the air was down to detailed information from EASA, the FAA, and the aircraft manufacturer Boeing.  Despite the last two being in collusion to originally falsify records and self-certificate the safety and airworthiness of the type before the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air disasters. 

The EASA carried out all the technical investigations as well as reviewing its own work as the original validating authority, although the CAA looked over all the paperwork. Additionally, according to the CAA,  the UK participated in pilot training forums and simulator evaluations.

A number of modifications have been needed to make the 737 MAX safe to fly according to the regulators, including on the aircraft's Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) and other key safety changes aimed at preventing further accidents. 

The main modifications to the aircraft that allow a safe return to service are:

Flight Control Computer (FCC) software changes, so that both of the aircraft's Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor inputs are used by the aircraft systems (rather than previously one)
safeguards against MCAS activating unnecessarily, due to a failed or erroneous AoA sensor
removal of the MCAS repeat command
revised limits on the MCAS command authority
revisions to flight crew procedures and training requirements
implementation of an AoA 'disagree' alert indication that would appear on the pilots' primary flight displays
cross FCC trim monitoring, to detect and shutdown erroneous pitch trim commands

The CAA says it is in close contact with TUI, currently, the only UK operator of the aircraft, as it returns its six 737 MAX aircraft to service. As part of this, the CAA will look over the airline's plans regarding pilot training and the implementation of the modifications. However, the CAA is effectively washing its hands of any responsibilities, by maintaining that it is the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which is responsible for the initial type certification (approval) of the Boeing 737 MAX as it is designed in the USA, and it is the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) that validates this certification across the EU, of which the UK was a member of when the type was first approved.

Richard Moriarty, Chief Executive at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Our thoughts remain with those affected by the tragic accidents of the Boeing 737 MAX. This is not a decision we have taken lightly and we would not have allowed a return to service for UK operators, or lifted the ban on the aircraft operating in UK airspace, unless we were satisfied that the aircraft type is airworthy and can be operated safely. The international work to return the Boeing 737 MAX to the skies has been the most extensive project of this kind ever undertaken in civil aviation and shows how important the cooperation between states and regulators is to maintaining safety.”

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