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Boeing 737 Max: American Airlines CEO predicts delays over ‘politics’

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American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told employees that there could be even more delays to the 737 Max because of “politics,” CNBC reported, signalling that the US Federal Aviation Administration is increasingly worried about its reputation following two fatal crashes.

American Airlines has cancelled some flights until September 3 as Boeing’s 737 Max remains grounded around the world after two fatal crashes.

But Boeing and the FAA have not outlined a timetable for when they expect the plane to return, and Parker told employees at a town hall meeting last week that American Airlines may push that September date even further back.

He told staff that the need to sort of pilot schedules means that “you may see us push it back a month,” according to CNBC, which obtained a recording of the event.

Read more: American Airlines cancels flights on Boeing’s embattled 737 Max through September as the carrier’s $350 million headache gets worse

Parker said that while Boeing has announced that it has completed a software update to the plane, “they’ve been saying that for a while.”

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker.
Alex Wong/Getty

The update needs to be approved by the FAA and regulators around the world before the plane can return, and pilots will then need new training. So the plane could return to service before American Airlines starts to fly it again.

Parker said that “politics” could mean that the plane returns later than they expected, indicating that the industry believes the FAA is concerned about people’s trust in the plane and its own safety oversight and that other countries may decide to keep the plane grounded for longer.

“I think as much as anything now it may be politics as much as the true certification … safety issue. I don’t think the FAA wants to be alone in doing this,” he said, according to CNBC.

The 737 Max crisis has thrown a harsh spotlight on the FAA and its closeness with plane manufacturers and with the US political system.

Read more: Boeing’s 737 Max 8 nightmare and troublesome politics threaten the US’s standing as the global aviation leader

The FAA’s certification process for the plane is the subject of a number of federal and Congressional investigations, with a number of Congress members slamming the process that allows plane manufacturers like Boeing to help to certify their own products.

The crash site of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max plane in March 2018.
Xinhua/ via Getty Images

Daniel Elwell, acting administrator of the FAA, has repeatedly defended the FAA’s processes in light of the 737 Max crashes, and said that it has produced safe aircraft for years.

Europe’s aviation safety regulator has already outlined its own requirements for the plane’s return, independent of those set by the FAA, which could mean that the plane could return in the US before it does in Europe.

Parker’s comments suggest that the FAA would rather delay the plane’s return rather than have that sort of discrepancy.

Read more: Europe has outlined its own demands for letting Boeing’s 737 Max return to the skies, instead of relying on the US

American Airline’s own pilots have added to this scrutiny, with Captain Daniel Carey, the head of American Airlines pilots union Allied Pilots Association, questioning to Congress whether the FAA is sufficiently independent to properly audit planes.

Daniel Elwell, acting Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administrator, testifies during a Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation and Space hearing about the current state of airline safety on March 27, 2019.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In response to the Allied Pilots Association’s assertions, the FAA told Business Insider: “The FAA’s aircraft certification processes are well established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs. The 737-MAX certification program took five years and involved 110,000 hours of work on the part of FAA personnel, following the FAA’s standard certification process.”

Read more: Here are all the investigations and lawsuits that Boeing and the FAA are facing after the 737 Max crashes killed almost 350 people

Neither Boeing or the FAA have given a clear outline for when the plane will return. An FAA official said earlier in June that the plane will be back “by December,” which is later than many in the industry expected.

One of the key issues that could determine when the plane returns is the decision over whether or not pilots should train in a simulator.

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