EASA To Strengthen Safety Reviews of U.S.-certified Aircraft

 - January 25, 2021, 1:29 PM
A TUI Boeing 737 Max 8 arrives at Tenerife South Airport in the Canary Islands from Manchester, UK, in January 2019. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by HawkeyeUK)

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency intends to move away from the established practice of relying on the FAA for the certification of U.S. aircraft and products, and said it will assert a more independent role in clearing their airworthiness. The new practice emerges as a result of the “many lessons learned” from the fatal crashes of Boeing 737 Max aircraft in October 2018 and March 2019 and the model’s subsequent worldwide grounding, noted EASA executive director Patrick Ky. Speaking to the European Parliament's transport committee on Monday, Ky said a bilateral safety agreement between the EU and the U.S. in place since May 2011 resulted in progressively less involvement of EASA on FAA-approved projects.

Given the tragedies and what happened, he noted, referring to the lack of oversight of the FAA in certifying the Max-8 and -9, “we have stopped this trend and we will increase our level of involvement [and] our level of independent review of U.S. projects in order to build our own safety assessments.” The change, he added, will apply to U.S. products “in particular,” but also to aerospace products developed in Canada and Brazil—two countries with whom the EU also maintains a bilateral safety agreement.

Ky acknowledged that the new approach of independently assessing and analyzing safety-critical components and systems of future aircraft first certified by aviation safety regulators in the U.S., Brazil, and Canada will require more effort, but “give reassurance to European citizens that we are performing our work as safety regulator in Europe.”

The committee summoned Ky following reports that EASA will likely recertify the 737 Max 8 and Max 9 Max later this week, allowing the aircraft’s return to service in the EU. Although he repeated earlier statements that he believes the aircraft is fit to fly safely, he did not provide a firm date for the ungrounding, saying only that EASA would become the next authority to follow certification by the U.S., Brazil, and Canada. The FAA, Brazil’s ANAC, Transport Canada, and EASA have done most of the technical work involving the Max’s recertification, he asserted, adding that he understands that Chinese authorities are “performing their own work.”

“We have no visibility on when and how they will return the Max to service,” said Ky. 

EASA issued a proposed airworthiness directive for EU airlines and a safety directive for third-country operators aiming to deploy the Max into the EU on November 24 last year. A public consultation that closed on December 22 received 38 comments, most of them relating to the wording and clarity of the text, and a common response document will be published at the same time as the final AD.

In parallel, EASA has been coordinating with the national aviation authorities of the EU on the work they need to perform to support the Max’s re-entry into service. That work mainly involves the oversight of the pilot training activities and of the implementation of the technical changes, as mandated by EASA, on each grounded Max. “All this is expected to take place later this week,” Ky said.

Another lesson from the Max fatal accidents centers on a larger focus on human factors during the certification process. “Our human factor experts will intervene as early as possible in the design of the architecture of the aircraft in order to make sure that the operational feeling and the training requirement of pilots are properly taken into account,” according to Ky.