© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Boeing logo is pictured at the Latin American Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition Fair (LABACE) at Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on August 14, 2018. REUTERS / Paulo Whitaker / File Photo
By Eric M. Johnson, David Shepardson, and Tracy Rucinski
SEATTLE / WASHINGTON / CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. aviation security officials have asked Boeing (NYSE 🙂 Co to provide new analysis and documentation showing that numerous 737 MAX subsystems are unaffected by electrical grounding issues for the first time were reported in three areas of the jet in April, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The additional analysis leads to new uncertainty about when Boeing’s best-selling jetliner will be approved for flight by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The electrical problems left nearly a quarter of the 737 MAX’s fleet exposed.
American airlines have announced that Boeing will release the service bulletins as early as this week, which would allow them to make corrections and get the planes back into service soon.
“We are continuing to work closely with the FAA and our customers to solve the problem of the ground path in affected 737s,” said a Boeing spokeswoman.
When asked about the status of the aircraft, an FAA spokesman said, “We are continuing to work with Boeing.”
Airlines retired dozens of 737 MAX jets early last month after Boeing warned of a production-related problem with electrical grounding in a backup control unit in the cockpit of some recently built aircraft.
The problem, which also stopped the delivery of new aircraft, was then found in two other places on the flight deck, including the storage shelf that stores the affected control unit and the instrument panel that faces the pilots.
The Breakdown is the latest iteration of the 737 MAX, which lay on the ground for almost two years from 2019 after two fatal accidents.
The many questions surrounding a relatively simple electrical problem illustrate the tougher regulatory stance of the largest American exporter trying to get out of the 737 MAX crisis and the overlapping coronavirus pandemic.
Late last week, Boeing filed service bulletins advising airlines on how to fix the grounding or electrical path issues to ensure safety in the event of a voltage surge.
The FAA approved the service bulletins, but then asked for additional analysis in ongoing discussions with Boeing to determine whether other jet subsystems were affected by the grounding problem, one of the sources said. The FAA will review Boeing’s analysis and any required changes to service bulletins before they can be sent to airlines.
Boeing has proposed adding a tie strap or cable that workers screw onto two different surfaces to create a ground path, two people said.
Boeing had initially informed the airlines that a repair per jet could take hours or a few days.
The electrical grounding issue arose after Boeing changed a manufacturing method to expedite production of the jetliner, a third person said. A fourth person said the change improved a hole drilling process.
The FAA issued a new airworthiness policy last week that provides for a correction before the jets resume flight. The problem affects 109 aircraft in operation worldwide. According to sources, more than 300 aircraft in Boeing’s inventory are affected.
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