The head of the Federal Aviation Administration is concerned that Boeing is pushing for an unrealistically quick return of its grounded 737 Max and that there is a perception the company is pressuring the regulator, according to a senior FAA official.
The official told Congress of FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson’s concerns on Thursday, shortly before Dickson met with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and another Boeing executive.
The high-level meeting was held amid signs of further delays in the return of the Max, which has been grounded since March after two fatal accidents.
Separately on Thursday, American Airlines pushed back the expected return of its Max jets by another month, removing the planes from its schedule until April 7. It cited guidance from the FAA and Boeing.
And Southwest Airlines announced that it reached a partial settlement with Boeing over compensation for the grounding, The airline said it will give $125 million it received from Boeing to employees, many of whom have lost wages because of Max-related canceled flights.
The grounding of the Max is costing Boeing and airlines billions. Boeing has been eager to signal that the plane could soon fly again. Recently, the company said it expected the FAA to permit shipments of new Max jets in December and approval of a pilot-training program for airlines in January.
In an email Thursday to key congressional committees Philip Newman, the FAA assistant administrator for government and industry affairs, said Dickson “is concerned that Boeing continues to pursue a return-to-service schedule that is not realistic” because of various delays. "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."
Newman wrote that Dickson is clear that FAA and Boeing "must take the time to get this process right."
Boeing struck an upbeat tone in describing the meeting with FAA.
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.”