Major air regulators to join FAA's review panel on Boeing's 737 MAX

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Ethiopia, Indonesia and at least five other major regulators are expected to join the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) review panel on the Boeing 737 MAX, officials said on Tuesday.

Part of the unpainted fuselage of a 737 Max aircraft at the Boeing factory in Renton, Washington, U.S., March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

China confirmed on Tuesday it would join the review, while Canada, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore previously said that they would join the panel. Officials told Reuters that Australia, EASA, Brazil, Indonesia and Ethiopia are also expected to take part.

Former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart, who is chairing the review, told reporters on Friday that it would begin later in April and would take about 90 days.

Hart said the review is in response “to the growing need for globalization ... because these airplanes are all over the place” and to the need for a “uniform response.”

The FAA said last week it was forming an international team to review the safety of the aircraft, grounded worldwide following two deadly crashes - in Indonesia in October and in Ethiopia last month - that killed nearly 350 people.

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines Co said this week they were extending flight cancellations due to the grounding until early June.

China was the first to ground the newest version of Boeing’s workhorse 737 model last month following the Ethiopian Airlines crash, prompting a series of regulatory actions by other governments worldwide.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has decided to send experts to be part of the FAA panel, an official in the regulator’s media relations department told Reuters.

Chinese airlines operated 97 of the 371 737 MAX jets in service before the grounding, the most of any country, according to Flightglobal data.

Hart said the “accidents of the future” will not be mechanical problems like an engine falling off but rather like the two fatal MAX crashes where anti-stall software and pilot actions have been raised.

“A person and the automation don’t work together right,” Hart said. “It’s going to be tougher to decide what’s the bright line for grounding this thing, what’s the bright line for ungrounding this thing.”

It will be much harder in the future to decide in the cases of “automation that usually works but sometimes doesn’t work” and when it does not work “most pilots can still handle but sometimes they can’t.”

Reporting by Stella Qiu and Brenda Goh; Additional Reporting by Jamie Freed in Singapore; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Jonathan Oatis