Bloomberg News and Associated Press
Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg met with the top U.S. aviation regulator Thursday to discuss the agency’s concerns that the planemaker is pressuring for an unrealistically swift return to service for the grounded 737 Max.
Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Stephen Dickson called the meeting to set what he sees as a more reasonable timeline to approve fixes Boeing is making to the plane, said a person familiar with the meeting who wasn’t authorized to speak about it in public.
Dickson cautioned in an interview Wednesday on CNBC that the process to re-certify the plane will extend into next year. Boeing has said it hopes to get approval for software fixes by the end of December.
The meeting with the CEO was called to “ensure Boeing is clear on FAA’s expectations regarding the ongoing review of the 737 Max,” according to a letter sent to congressional leaders by the FAA.
“The Administrator is concerned that Boeing continues to pursue a return-to-service schedule that is not realistic due to delays that have accumulated for a variety of reasons,” the agency said in the letter. “More concerning, the administrator wants to directly address the perception that some of Boeing’s public statements have been designed to force FAA into taking quicker action.”
“The administrator wants to make clear that both FAA and Boeing must take the time to get this process right,” the letter continued. “Safety is our top priority and the Administrator believes public statements must reflect this priority.”
Boeing struck an upbeat tone in describing the meeting.
CEO Dennis Muilenburg and the new head of Boeing’s commercial airplanes business, Stanley Deal, “had a productive meeting” with Dickson and FAA Deputy Administrator Daniell Elwell, said Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
“Boeing reaffirmed with the FAA that safety is our top shared priority, and we committed to addressing all of the FAA’s questions as they assess MAX certification and training requirements,” Johndroe said in a statement. “We will work with the FAA to support their requirements and their timeline as we work to safely return the Max to service in 2020.”
Dickson was grilled for hours by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday over the FAA’s decision to allow the 737 Max to continue flying after an initial fatal crash off the coast of Indonesia involving a 737 Max on Oct. 29, 2018. The plane was grounded after a second crash in Ethiopia on March 10. The crashes killed 346 people and have led to the longest U.S. airliner grounding of the jet age.