The unprecedented and ongoing examination of aircraft certification, triggered by the two Boeing 737 MAX accidents, has identified several areas that must change to improve outcomes, FAA administrator Steve Dickson said.

“We’ve identified some key themes that are emerging regarding aircraft certification processes,” Dickson said at the Dubai Airshow Nov. 17.

Regulators agree that certification needs to shift from a “holistic vs. transactional” approach, human factors elements must be introduced earlier and more effectively throughout the design process, and information flow must improve—between regulators as well as applicants and their agencies.

“These are among the many issues that we have to address to prevent the next accident from happening,” he added.

The themes have emerged from several reports completed as part of reviewing the MAX’s certification and Boeing’s efforts to correct design issues in the model’s flight control system (FCS). Dickson credited the US Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) task force, in which experts from nine regulatory agencies joined counterparts from the FAA and NASA to review 737 FCS certification, for spotlighting key “gaps” in FAA processes.

“I think it’s important to understand that never before in aviation history have you had 10 aviation authorities come together to conduct a review of this sort,” he said. “I think there has been an unprecedented collaboration. As I’ve spoken to our regulatory peers around the world, they have seen opportunities to improve their own processes.”

The JATR’s recommendations touched on each of the themes Dickson highlighted, while a set of US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations urged greater input from human factors experts during flight deck design.

Dickson, a former Air Force pilot and Delta Air Lines line pilot and executive, believes addressing human factors issues is overdue.

“In my personal opinion, that is something that needed to happen some time ago,” he said.

Dickson expects more lessons from a special US Department of Transportation committee set up to review FAA’s certification process that is expected to complete its report “in the next two to three weeks.”

The FAA and other regulators continue to review Boeing’s proposed changes to the MAX, including updating its maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) flight-control law implicated as a key factor in two fatal MAX accidents.

Addressing reporters before the airshow opened, newly appointed CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Stan Deal said that while Boeing still aims to wrap up the approval process this year, the FAA is setting the pace.

“We’re going to follow the FAA’s lead on this,” Deal told reporters in Dubai on Nov. 16. “The process, the tools and certification—this has to be safe and done well, and as the FAA said they’re not going to put a timeframe on it and we're going to draft behind them on this, and the regulators around the globe.”

The remarks highlight the delicate balance Boeing faces to get the 737 MAX back in the air as soon as possible without appearing to be pressuring the FAA’s certification team.

The company on Nov. 11 issued an update that included several accomplished milestones and said FAA approval is still possible by year-end. Days later, Dickson issued an internal memo and video reassuring his certification experts that the MAX’s approval in the US rests on their work, not on any external factors.

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@aviationweek.com

Stephen Trimble, stephen.trimble@aviationweek.com