Emirates president Sir Tim Clark says he is confident that regulators assessing the Boeing 777X will do so rigorously in the wake of the 737 Max fallout, which called into question the practices of the manufacturer and regulators during the aircraft certification process.
Emirates has over 100 of Boeing’s mini jumbo on order and will be the launch customer for the new jet, which embarked on its maiden voyage in January but could be delayed by up to a year.
With Boeing’s manufacturing and the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulatory practises coming under scrutiny following two fatal accidents involving Boeing’s recently launched 737 Max jet, all industry eyes are on both the airframer and FAA when it comes to the 777X.
“I think there has been a departure from the rigors of certification, perhaps evident in what happened with the Max, by that I mean the passing over of the actual regulation of what people were doing in-plant and being employed in this case by Boeing,” Sir Tim said at FIA Connect, Farnborough Airshow’s virtual replacement which took place last week.
Boeing’s flight control software has been at the centre of the investigation into the Max crashes, which killed 346 people. Investigators are looking at the practices within the company which allowed the software to be approved for service.
Sir Tim said that the industry needs to be “a little bit wary” of the recent temptation for manufacturers to embed more and more software into aircraft, even if the software is not necessarily flight control critical.
“I’m not saying [regulators] haven’t been doing a good job but there has been a certain amount of relaxation,” he said.
“The regulators, when they get their mojo back and interdict far more readily… that has come back with a vengeance now.”
Sir Tim said he expects the 777X to be subjected to “a rigorous certification process, along the ways that it always used to be done where the regulators independent of the manufacturers are actually getting on with their job and doing what they need to be doing”.
Some observers believe that in recent years, the growth in demand for commercial jets has placed additional pressures on Boeing and Airbus to build and approve planes quicker than ever.
“Both manufacturers produce outstanding aircraft but the pressures to get aircraft out of the door, the pressures to meet the cash flow requirements, the pressures to meet shareholder requirements, market capital, has in my view occluded what was an eminently safe and efficient way of regulating the build of current aircraft,” said Sir Tim.
“If we can get that back and we can populate the regulators with people who are equally qualified in aircraft design, in aerodynamics, propulsion etc, and they’re working for the government and they can liaise with but watch very carefully at what is happening, then I think we can expect that in future… that these aircraft will be coming out with everything known to everybody including the pilot community.”
However, Sir Tim does not expect brand new aircraft to be rolling off production lines anytime soon, especially given the recent industry coronavirus crisis. He said that both manufacturers, led by the airline community, are reluctant to branch out into completely new aircraft types.
“I think that had what happened recently, not only with the Max but with this pandemic… we have clipped the wings and the appetite of the airframers and to an extent propulsion to really embark into new grounds.
“I’m not optimistic about the airframers getting their teeth into new aircraft, I think they’ll do their back-of-house research but actually…the cost of the new-build is probably between $20 billion and $30 billion, with fairly extensive timelines, so there’s no appetite for that at the moment.”
He added: “In the short term, frankly I don’t see too much change. I see less players, and I see a risk averse nature of boards and shareholders in both the OEMs and the airline community, I think we have to live with that.
“I always remain optimistic that we have the capability, we have the creativity, we have the intellectual powers to come and address and produce aircraft that in 50 years’ time will shock and stun us.”