Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao had an emotional first meeting Tuesday in her Washington offices with family members of Boeing 737 Max crash victims.
The meeting came six months to the day after the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which followed the Lion Air Flight 610 tragedy last October. Together, the crashes killed 346 people.
Eleven families met with the head of the agency that oversees the Federal Aviation Administration, which will ultimately determine if and when the 737 Max commercial jet will fly again. The gathering, intended to last 45 minutes, stretched to more than two hours and was described as emotionally heavy.
Family members were in tears as they talked about their loved ones, according to Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya was killed in the Ethiopian crash.
Stumo told CNN there was emotion “on both sides. The secretary and her staff became emotional, and at one point we had to call for a second box of tissues.”
The families came to the meeting with several demands, including a commitment from the transportation secretary not to fast-track approving the plane to fly again.
The families said that while Chao vowed the plane would not fly again until they were certain it was safe, she did not commit to allowing all the investigations to play out first.
But she said three probes will likely be completed prior to the FAA declaring the aircraft safe for flight, according to Stumo and a spokesman for Chao: the Joint Authorities Technical Review, which includes the US and other international regulators assessing the FAA’s processes; the Technical Advisory Board, composed of aviation experts from the US government and military, which is reviewing Boeing’s proposed Max fixes; and a blue ribbon commission convened by Chao to review the way the FAA certifies aircraft.
A criminal probe by the Justice Department and a review by the Transportation Department inspector general also are underway.
“The Department and FAA have undertaken unprecedented steps to investigate and understand the incident and the process of certification for this aircraft,” a DOT spokesman said in a statement, adding that there is no timeline to return the plane to the skies.
Department officials say the Joint Authorities Technical Review will make recommendations and the FAA will address them prior to the 737 Max’s return to service. The panel had been expecting to issue its recommendations for changes to the FAA’s certification processes in late August, but that timeline has been pushed back.
The DOT spokesman said Tuesday that the “JATR panel is taking additional time to finish documenting its work. We expect the group to submit its observations, findings, and recommendations in the coming weeks.”
DOT has said that “while the airplane’s return to service is not contingent on their review, they are reviewing FAA’s aviation certification processes with the aim of identifying and recommending possible improvements.”