European aviation regulators are unlikely to clear Boeing’s 737 Max to return to service before the end of the year, even if US regulators decide to lift the ban on the aircraft.
EU regulators are only expected to lift the ban on the plane after the US Federal Aviation Administration does so, but the head of the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has said that any gap between the agencies would take weeks.
EASA declined to estimate when the FAA would lift the ban. Boeing initially hoped to return the Max to service in the fourth quarter after a number of fixes to the grounded plane, following two crashes which killed 346 people.
Patrick Ky, EASA’s director general, told reporters that the agency plans to clear the 737 Max for service at “the beginning of next year, if everything goes well”.
He has made several statements in recent months to suggest that Europe would follow the US in clearing the Max, but has been unclear about how large the gap would be.
Ky told Reuters on Friday: “As far as we know today, we have planned for our flight tests to take place in mid-December, which means decisions on a return to service for January, on our side.
“We may end up with a couple of weeks of time difference but we are not talking about six months.
“We are talking about a delay which, if it happens, will be due mostly to process or administrative technicalities.”
Ky dismissed suggestions from some observers that European regulators are deliberately dragging their feet over the Max’s return amid increased US-EU political and trade tensions.
“All the decisions that we took on this project were technical decisions. We don’t do politics,” he said.
A statement from Boeing said: “We are committed to continuing to work closely with the FAA and global regulators on the safe return to service of the 737 Max.”