Boeing 737 MAX timetable uncertain as regulators continue safety review

FILE PHOTO: Employees walk by the end of a 737 Max aircraft at the Boeing factory in Renton, Washington, U.S., March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. and European Union regulators said on Tuesday they were still reviewing Boeing Co’s changes to 737 MAX software after two fatal crashes, throwing into question the speed at which the grounded aircraft can return to service.

Boeing has repeatedly said it hopes to resume flights in the fourth quarter, which began Oct. 1.

The ongoing safety review means that a key 737 MAX certification test flight is unlikely to take place before November, two sources said.

Still, regulators sought to play down talk of transatlantic divisions over safety changes to the 737 MAX, which was grounded worldwide in March after two crashes killed 346 people within five months.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement that it has a “transparent and collaborative relationship” with other civil aviation authorities as it continues its 737 MAX safety review, while its European Union counterpart said it was in “continuous contact” with both the FAA and Boeing.

“We do not at this stage have any specific concerns resulting from that assessment that would mean that we could not agree to a coordinated return to service. We are in continuous contact with both the FAA and Boeing,” a European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) spokeswoman said by email.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told Reuters in September the agency would need about a month following the yet-to-be scheduled certification test flight before the planes could return to service.

The FAA reiterated on Tuesday that it does not have a firm date for completing its review.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Writing by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Chris Reese and Bill Berkrot

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