Boeing CEO meets with FAA administrator over 737 Max grounding timeline

Two top Boeing executives met Thursday with Federal Aviation Administration chief Stephen Dickson amid signs of further delays in the return of the grounded 737 Max.

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In an email to key congressional committees, obtained by FOX Business Network's Hillary Vaughn, the FAA said Dickson is instructing agency safety experts to take as long as they need to review changes Boeing is making to the plane after two fatal crashes.

“Later today, FAA Administrator Dickson will be meeting with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg. The purpose of the meeting is to ensure Boeing is clear on FAA’s expectations regarding the ongoing review of the 737 MAX," the email states. "The Administrator believes it is in the interest safety and the overall certification efforts of FAA and the international community that we continue to make progress while taking the time to get this right."

Boeing struck an upbeat tone in describing the meeting.

CEO Dennis Muilenburg and the new head of Boeing’s commercial airplanes business, Stanley Deal, “had a productive meeting” with Dickson and FAA Deputy Administrator Daniell Elwell, said Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

“Boeing reaffirmed with the FAA that safety is our top shared priority, and we committed to addressing all of the FAA’s questions as they assess MAX certification and training requirements,” Johndroe said in a statement. “We will work with the FAA to support their requirements and their timeline as we work to safely return the Max to service in 2020.”

After two fatal 737 Max airplane crashes that left hundreds dead within the span of eight months, Boeing has remained under the watchful eye of the FAA.

In October, a Boeing 737 Max airplane leaving Jakarta, Indonesia crashed shortly after takeoff killing 189 people, and in March, another Boeing Max plane crashed after leaving Ethiopia, killing all 157 people on board.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines reached a settlement Thursday with the airplane manufacturer over the extended grounding time. All of Boeing’s 737 Max planes have been grounded since March because of the crashes.

Maps show Boeing 737 Max crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

Boeing estimated that commercial service for the plane will resume at the beginning of January. However, the FAA Administrator overseeing the Boeing 737 Max safety evaluations expressed doubt over the airplane manufacturer's timeline, according to the email.

“The Administrator is concerned that Boeing continues to pursue a return-to-service schedule that is not realistic due to delays that have accumulated for a variety of reasons," the email stated. "More concerning, the Administrator wants to directly address the perception that some of Boeing’s public statements have been designed to force FAA into taking quicker action.”

According to a Nov. 11 Boeing press release, they must complete a five-step process before the 737 Max planes can return to commercial service, with the first step having already been completed.

  1. FAA eCab Simulator Certification Session: A multi-day eCab simulator evaluation with the FAA to ensure the overall software system performs its intended function, both normally and in the presence of system failures.   
  2. FAA Line Pilots Crew Workload Evaluation: A separate, multi-day simulator session with airline pilots to assess human factors and crew workload under various test conditions.  
  3. FAA Certification Flight Test: FAA pilots will conduct certification flights of the final updated software.  
  4. Boeing Final Submittal to the FAA: After completion of the FAA certification flight, Boeing will submit the final certification deliverables and artifacts to the FAA to support software certification.  
  5. Joint Operational Evaluation Board Simulator Training Evaluation: The Joint Operational Evaluation Board, a multi-regulatory body, conducts a multi-day simulator session with global regulatory pilots to validate training requirements. Following the simulator session, the Flight Standardization Board will release a report for a public comment period, followed by final approval of the training.

Meanwhile, the FAA administrator wrote that the remaining safety evaluation processes will likely take some time.

“The Administrator wants to make clear that both FAA and Boeing must take the time to get this process right," the email stated. "Safety is our top priority and the Administrator believes public statements must reflect this priority.”

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This story contains material from the Associated Press.