Federal Aviation Administration chief Stephen Dickson says his agency must be “humble” about areas for improvement after approving the Boeing 737 MAX, the plane models that crashed twice in less than six months killing 346 people.
The FAA’s stamp of approval, the longtime gold standard in aviation safety, has come into question from some of its counterparts overseas which acted more proactively to ground the jets after the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March, and have since indicated plans to conduct their own reviews before allowing the plane to return to service.
He said the international concerns mean the agency is in a “little different paradigm” than in the past, and the agency must be aware that “we can always improve, we can always get better.” The agency is “involving an unprecedented number of certification authorities” in its work and multiple reviews and investigations are ongoing.
Dickson, a former airline pilot and executive, spoke at a National Air Traffic Controllers Association event, and the group posted video of his remarks. The FAA did not publicly announce his appearance in advance.
He spoke prior to visiting Boeing’s Seattle-area headquarters on Thursday where he operated a 737 MAX simulator. The agency said company management briefed him on their work to fix the plane’s systems.
Earlier this month, CNN reported on the signs of a disconnect between worldwide regulators, which a Boeing official acknowledged could lead to the plane returning to service in the US while remaining grounded in some other countries or regions.
Dickson, who took the agency’s helm just over a month ago, said this week there has been “good alignment at the technical level” between international regulators on the MAX, and said he will brief 50 international regulators at a meeting on Monday.
If other countries aren’t prepared to unground when FAA is, Dickson said “it may get to the point where we have to make our own decision.”
At the NATCA event, Dickson said the FAA is reviewing “more than 500 pages of technical material” from Boeing on the 737 MAX and indicated the agency has more work to do before it is ready to decide whether the plane is safe for flight.
The documentation includes “the whole software architecture and the flight control system architecture, as well as the integrated system safety analysis,” he said.
“Once we have a chance to review that and make our assessment, then we will move back into the human factors portion of it, evaluating the performance of US and international pilots in the engineering simulator, and after that we’ll move forward. So it’s going to be some time before we complete that process.
The company has expressed hope the plane will be cleared for flight early in the fourth quarter, which begins in October. Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday morning on that timeline or Dickson’s remarks.
CNN’s Rene Marsh contributed to this report