With just 35 days left in 2019, the FAA is making it increasingly clear it is unlikely to recertify the Boeing 737 Max this year, a target Boeing has been eyeing for months.
For the third time in two weeks, the FAA said publicly it will take all the time it needs to deem the Max safe. The FAA issued a new statement, saying, "The FAA has not completed its review of the 737 Max aircraft design changes and associated pilot training. The agency will not approve the aircraft for return to service until it has completed numerous rounds of rigorous testing."
CNBC has asked Boeing if it sticks by its guidance of the 737 Max potentially returning to commercial service by the end of January. The company says it has not changed its outlook.
This is the latest move by the FAA to publicly push back on Boeing's belief that Max deliveries could resume soon. In its most recent 737 Max progress report issued on Nov. 11, Boeing said it is "possible that the resumption of Max deliveries to airline customers could begin in December, after certification, when the FAA issues an Airworthiness Directive rescinding the grounding order."
Boeing's suggestion the Max is close to returning did not sit well with the FAA and Administrator Steve Dickson. Four days after Boeing's statement, Dickson released an internal letter he sent to the FAA's associate administrator who oversees the Max certification process. "The FAA fully controls the approval process," Dickson wrote.
The message could not be missed: The FAA will not rush the certification of the Max simply because Boeing believes the process should be completed by a certain date. To drive that point home, Dickson posted a video message to FAA employees the following day saying, "I'll support the time that you need to conduct a thorough, deliberate process for a safe return to service."
For the 737 Max to be recertified to fly this year it will have to clear several hurdles in a short time. For starters, the FAA must conduct Human Factors Testing to evaluate the revamped MCAS flight control software.
That testing, which takes up to three to four days is expected to start next week, according to one person familiar with the Max timeline. By mid-December, the Max may finally make its certification flight. When it's over, it could take a week or two to analyze the data and complete a final report on that flight.
In addition, the Joint Operational Evaluation Board simulator trials with line pilots evaluating the updated training for the Max still needs to take place. Finally, the FAA's Flight Standardization Board needs to file its report on MCAS, which then will start a public comment period of one to two weeks.
Only after all of those steps are completed will the FAA lift the grounding of the Max with an Airworthiness Certificate. In its latest statement, the FAA said, "Issuance of the Airworthiness Certificate is the final FAA action affirming that each newly manufactured 737 Max is airworthy."