IATA: Airlines face challenges of regulatory rift beyond MAX grounding

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The decisions surrounding the global grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX fleet created an unprecedented rift between the world’s civil aviation authorities which threatens to impact the certification process even after the MAX eventually returns to the skies.

Airlines and manufacturers both rely on the harmonization of regulations that have been ongoing for decades and the mutual acceptance of certificates of approval. While regulators have maintained their independence and sovereignty to question technical details and approvals where there is disagreement, the continuous dialogue and respect between them has helped set standards that expedite the development of new products and technologies and services.

From the moment that regulators disregarded the FAA’s advisory on the MAX following the Ethiopian Airlines crash, and chose instead to ground the plane in their jurisdictions regardless of the FAA’s opinion, RGN writers, including yours truly, warned that finding mutual accord in the future could be difficult.

During an address at the IATA General Assembly in Seoul, IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac echoed some of those concerns, saying:

Trust in the certification system has been damaged – among regulators, between regulators and the industry and with the flying public. Everyone must be confident that processes are sufficiently thorough not to warrant duplicative and redundant examinations jurisdiction by jurisdiction. While Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration are at center stage, the close collaboration of counterpart manufacturers and civil aviation authorities around the world is essential. Any rift between regulators is not in anybody’s interest.

What could a rift mean for airlines and manufacturers in the future?

The greater scrutiny on the FAA’s certification and approval process for aircraft – stemming from questions surrounding the process employed for the 737 MAX – might result in other regulators questioning the technical details submitted to them by manufacturers and previously approved by the FAA.

“We have seen some indications that some authorities – and they have the right to do so – may decide to act on their own. Once the 737 MAX is initially authorized by the certifying authority – which in this case is the FAA – they may decide whatever they want…to review the whole process…to do it again if they want,” IATA senior vice president safety and flight operations Gilberto Lopez Meyer told RGN during the IATA AGM.

“This is a big concern for me because the growth of the industry in the last decades has been based on what we call mutual recognition. I have a license issued by the European authority and I can fly anywhere in the world with that license. I have an airplane that is certified in one country, I can fly anywhere in the world with that aircraft. So mutual recognition is very important for the development of this industry. But this unusually complex – this unprecedented situation – could eventually jeopardize the stability of that system.”

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Lopez Meyer also said he sees good signs in that dialogue continues among regulators, even supported by meetings organized by the FAA.

IATA, however, is not relying on the FAA alone to spur the dialogue. The airline association had a meeting of regulators and 737 MAX operators/buyers on 23 May to discuss the various questions raised by the grounding, including regulatory coordination. A follow-up meeting is planned for this month.

“Honestly, what we believe is that we are seeing a temporary situation. Because, in the end, we all know that this industry cannot work if we don’t have this system that has been built through more than 70 years of working,” Lopez Meyer told RGN.

“The more we communicate, the better it’s going to be.”

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