Airlines urge regulators to co-ordinate on software changes to Boeing 737 Max

International Air Transport Association says trust in certification system had been damaged by separate decisions to ground the jet

International Air Transport Association chief executive Alexandre de Juniac  during a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, after the opening  of the annual IATA general meeting. Photograph: Getty Images

International Air Transport Association chief executive Alexandre de Juniac during a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, after the opening of the annual IATA general meeting. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Airlines urged regulators on Sunday to co-ordinate on software changes to the Boeing 737 Max in a bid to avoid damaging splits over safety seen when the aircraft was grounded in March.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), whose 290 carriers account for 80 per cent of world flying, said trust in the certification system had been damaged by separate decisions to ground the jet, with the US last to act.

Boeing sent a team to reassure airline bosses of its focus on safety at their annual gathering in Seoul. The IATA event began Sunday with an opening ceremony in which sobering news reports on the disasters were beamed onto super-sized screens as the industry group’s head, Alexandre de Juniac, warned that the plane-approval process was damaged and the industry was under scrutiny.

Doubts about a speedy resolution to the Max crisis hang over the two-day meeting, aviation’s biggest gathering since the second crash in Ethiopia in March and a key annual forum for top-level discussions.

Airline chiefs said Boeing must convince regulators worldwide of the 737’s safety, not just the US Federal Aviation Administration, if it’s to restore faith in the model.

“Unless they get all regulators on board, irrespective of how good or how well they think they’ve fixed the aircraft, it’s not going to work,” Emirates president Tim Clark said in an interview at the gathering. “It’s done enormous damage to the industry, and they have a responsibility to make that good.”

Profit forecast

The move comes as global airlines slashed a widely watched industry profit forecast by 21 per cent as an expanding trade war and higher oil prices compound worries about an overdue industry slowdown.

IATA said the industry is expected to post a $28 billion profit in 2019, down from a December forecast of $35.5 billion.

Boeing’s best-selling jet was grounded after two crashes, in Indonesia and Ethiopia, over five months killed a total of 346 people. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) initially resisted the decision to ground the aircraft led by China, but later followed suit.

Airline officials say any new bout of staggered decisions could cause problems in operations and code-sharing.

However, the EU’s top transport official said the bloc’s regulator, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) , reserved the right to carry out its own separate review at its own pace.

“We always work together with other regulators, and we certainly will take joint moves, but EASA will reserve the right to take an individual look at the results and then of course engage with the rest of the regulators.” transport commissioner Violeta Bulc said at the Seoul event.

Boeing staff

The 737 Max crashes have thrown the spotlight on cockpit software and a certification system which relies on the US’s FAA delegating some approval tasks to Boeing staff working on its behalf.

“I think the investigations...will probably reveal that the FAA perhaps unwittingly let a little bit too much go,” said Mr Clark. “And I think that the other regulators didn’t realise how much the FAA had empowered the manufacturing delegates.”

He warned it could take six months to restore operations as other regulators re-examine the US delegation practices – though major US airlines have only suspended Max schedules to August.

“That is why it is going to take time to get this aircraft back in the air. If it is in the air by Christmas I’ll be surprised – my own view,” he told reporters.

Emirates’ sister carrier flydubai is a major 737 Max customer.

The FAA says it has no firm date, but has indicated privately to other regulators that it aims to certify new software by the end of June, after which it could take weeks to get aircraft flying. – Reuters/Bloomberg