Exclusive: U.S. lawmakers set to back Boeing 737 MAX certification extension

A Boeing 737 Max aircraft during a display at the Farnborough International Airshow, in Farnborough
A Boeing 737 Max aircraft during a display at the Farnborough International Airshow, in Farnborough, Britain, July 20, 2022. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

WASHINGTON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N) is set to win backing from Congress for an extension of a looming deadline imposing a new safety standard for modern cockpit alerts for two new versions of the U.S. plane maker's best-selling 737 MAX aircraft, sources told Reuters.

The Chicago-based company has been intensely lobbying for months to convince lawmakers to waive the Dec. 27 deadline that affects its MAX 7 and MAX 10 airplanes that was imposed by Congress in 2020 after two fatal 737 MAX crashes killed 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Congressional leaders have agreed to attach the extension to a bill to fund U.S. government operations and to require new safety enhancements for existing MAX aircraft proposed by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, the sources said. That massive spending bill still must be passed in the coming days.

Cantwell proposed requiring retrofitting existing MAX airplanes with an "enhanced angle of attack (AOA) and a means to shut off stall warnings and overspeed alerts, for all MAX aircraft," Reuters reported on Nov. 30.

Faulty data from a single sensor that erroneously triggered a software function called MCAS to repeatedly activate played critical roles in the fatal 737 MAX crashes.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2020 required Boeing to retrofit planes to ensure MCAS could activate only if it received data from two AOA sensors.

Boeing declined to comment, but Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Stan Deal said last week the planemaker supported Cantwell's safety retrofit proposal.

After Dec. 27, all planes must have modern cockpit alerting systems in order to be certified by the FAA, which could jeopardize the futures of the MAX 7 and 10 or mean significant delays for the new aircrafts’ deployment - unless Congress passes legislation. The alerting requirement does not apply to in-service airplanes previously certified by the FAA.

Boeing said in October it expects the 737 MAX 7 to be certified this year or in 2023 and last week Boeing's Deal said he thinks the MAX 10 could receive certification in late 2023 or early 2024.

Michael Stumo, whose daughter died in the Ethiopian Airlines MAX crash, criticized the decision to add the provision, noting Congress had held no hearings on Boeing's request to extend the deadline. "No data, no examination," Stumo told Reuters on Monday. "This is how people die on planes."

Boeing won key support from aviation unions last week, according to previously unreported letters seen by Reuters.

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers President Robert Martinez told congressional leaders in Dec. 14 letters seen by Reuters that the "deadline threatens to cancel the MAX-10 and MAX-7 aircraft programs, which would result in devastating impacts on thousands of workers and their communities throughout the U.S., as well as the future of the U.S. aerospace industry."

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington Editing by Mark Porter and Matthew Lewis

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