UK airlines are now able to operate passenger flights with the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, subject to close oversight. The ban on the aircraft operating in UK airspace has also been removed. The changes follow similar decisions by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transport Canada.
The decision follows the approval of design modifications to the aircraft itself, how it is flown, and to pilot training. This has included modification to the aircraft’s Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) and other key safety changes aimed at preventing further accidents. The CAA has been closely involved in this approval work and the extensive process undertaken by all involved.
The CAA is in close contact with TUI, currently the only UK operator of the aircraft, as it returns its aircraft to service. As part of this we will have full oversight of the airline’s plans including its pilot training programmes and implementation of the required aircraft modifications.
The removal of the airspace ban will allow foreign operators to fly the Boeing 737 MAX in UK airspace. All airlines, however, will need to go through the necessary steps to return the aircraft to service, including pilot training, so it is likely there will be few immediate flights.
The aircraft was grounded following two tragic accidents (Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019). The UK was one of the first countries to act, preventing the aircraft from using its airspace.
The CAA has based its decision to allow a return to service on detailed information from EASA, the FAA and Boeing, in addition to extensive engagement with airline operators and pilot representative organisations. The CAA worked alongside EASA, as our technical agent, reviewing its work as the validating authority. During this process the UK has been fully sighted on the technical assurance activity conducted by EASA. Additionally, the UK participated in pilot training forums and simulator evaluations.
The main modifications to the aircraft that allow a safe return to service are:
- Flight Control Computer (FCC) software changes, so that both of the aircraft’s Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor inputs are used by the aircraft systems (rather than previously one)
- safeguards against MCAS activating unnecessarily, due to a failed or erroneous AoA sensor
- removal of the MCAS repeat command
- revised limits on the MCAS command authority
- revisions to flight crew procedures and training requirements
- implementation of an AoA ‘disagree’ alert indication that would appear on the pilots’ primary flight displays
- cross FCC trim monitoring, to detect and shutdown erroneous pitch trim commands
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for the initial type certification (approval) of the Boeing 737 MAX as it is designed in the USA, and it is the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) that validates this certification across the EU. EASA has published a closing report on it's work.