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December 8, 2023
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The Boeing MAX 7 and MAX 10 can be certified next year without the need to install a crew alerting system. In the early hours of December 20, US Congress leaders supported an amendment that exempts the two MAX types from 2020 legislation to have additional safety systems fitted if they failed to be certified after December 27, 2022. Congress will vote about this later this week. But the MAX will require to have two extra systems to enhance safety. Boeing MAX 7 and 10 certification deadline gets a waiver.

The support from Congress will be a huge relief to Boeing, which has been lobbying for months to get an exemption from the December 27 deadline that is included in the 2020 Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability act. The intention of that act was to improve aircraft safety by including a crew alerting system in the cockpit that assists pilots to monitor the plane’s systems. The lack of such a system has been seen as a contributory factor to the two fatal accidents with the MAX 8 in October 2018 (Lion Air) and March 2019 (Ethiopian). All aircraft certified after January 1, 2023, would be required to have such a system.

In 2020, this was seen as a formality that would not affect the MAX 7 and MAX 10, which were yet to be certified. Certification was expected well before the deadline would come into effect. But in late 2021/early 2022, it became evident that the MAX 10 would struggle to meet certification in 2022. This later applied to the MAX 7 as well. The FAA said in September that Boeing had submitted only ten percent of the documents for the System Safety Assessment (SSA) for the MAX 7, which would be too late to get the type certificated in December.

Boeing lobby

To buy time, Boeing lobbied Congress to get an exemption for the December deadline, citing the devastating effects that a delay would have on MAX orders and jobs in the US. If Boeing would be forced to redesign the cockpits of the MAX 7 and 10, that would seriously delay the fleet renewal plans of airlines like Southwest, Delta, and United. Southwest has been counting on MAX 7 deliveries this year but swapped them for MAX 8s instead. A redesign would also result in differences between the MAX 7 and 10 with the crew alerting system and the MAX 8 and 9 without them. This also spurred debate between pilot unions.

When a waiver for the MAX 7 and 10 was not included in the draft of the National Defense Authorization Act in November, the situation looked worrying for Boeing. Congress and even those within the two parties were divided about granting a waiver, but this is what actually happened now in today’s early morning session.

The Boeing MAX 10 prototype at Farnborough Airshow. (Richard Schuurman)

Safety enhancements

While the waiver gives Boeing and the FAA more time to certify the two MAX models without the time pressure and need to include the engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS), the airframer still has some modifications to do on all MAX models. That’s because Congress included a condition that was set out in an amendment by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell. Her November amendment calls for the retrofit to all MAX types of two systems to enhance systems no later than three years after the MAX 10 is certified.

The Omnibus Bill states on page 1926: Beginning on the date that is 3 years after the date on which the Administrator issues a type certificate for the Boeing 737-10, no person may operate a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft unless (A) the type design for the aircraft includes safety enhancements approved by the Administrator; and (B) the aircraft was ‘‘(i) produced in conformance with such type design; or ‘‘(ii) altered in accordance with such 22 type design.”

The two systems required under the Cantwell amendment include “(i) a synthetic enhanced angle-of-attack system; and ‘‘(ii) means to shut off stall warning and overspeed alerts.” The former system has been made compulsory on the MAX 10 by the European regulatory agency EASA in its conditions for the re-certification of the MAX set out in 2020. The stall warning and overspeed alert system is also on the MAX 10.

How do they work?

At the Farnborough Airshow in July, a Boeing engineer explained that overspeed system to AirInsight (see main picture): “It is initially on the MAX 10 as part of the flight test program to certify the installation of the disconnect switches for the overspeed warning and the stick shaker, as part of the improvements to the MAX design overall. The crew can disconnect the stick shaker and the overspeed warning if the crew determines that there is a conflict in those signals. This could be caused by an error in the angle of attack or airspeed sensors, or any unforeseen events that can happen. Once the crew has determined it is a nuisance and they don’t need it, it literally takes away the noise of the stick shaker and the overspeed warning system, but the aircraft won’t behave differently. It is just a silencer of the alarms.”

On the enhanced angle-of-attack system, the engineer said: “Basically, it is a virtual third source of angle-of-attack information. We have the two hard sensors on the outside of the airplane and we synthesize a third source of data and use that for comparison logic to increase the reliability of the AoA system. There is no third physical sensor outside the airplane. When it is certified on this airplane, it will likely be taken across the rest of the fleet.” This will now become mandatory under the Bill that will be voted on by Congress.

The Bill requires FAA Administrator to brief Congress about the status of the MAX 7 and 10 type certificates no later than on March 1 and/or every quarter after that. Not related directly to the certification of these types but a result of the MAX incidents, the Bill grants the FAA $94 million in additional funding to recruit 223 additional positions of aviation safety and certification oversight. The House Committee MAX report and the Whistleblower Report criticized the role of the agency and concluded earlier that the FAA had been seriously understaffed when the MAX 8 was certified and lacked oversight.  

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Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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