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Boeing's grounded 737 Max gets tentative nod from European regulator

Cologne, Germany

EUROPE'S aviation safety regulator kicked off the process of bringing Boeing Co's 737 Max back into service, in a major step toward the grounded jet's global return.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published a proposed airworthiness directive on Tuesday, laying out changes required before the aircraft can return to service.

The move triggers a 28-day public consultation, putting the Max on track for final clearance by early 2021. EU approval would mark a milestone in Boeing's effort to return the Max to service outside the United States, following the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) granting of final clearance last week.

Backing by European regulators would help build global support for the aircraft, after the Max crisis damaged the FAA's reputation as the leader in air safety.

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"I am confident that we have left no stone unturned in our assessment of the aircraft with its changed design approach," Patrick Ky, EASA's executive director, said. "The result was a thorough and comprehensive review of how this plane flies and what it is like for a pilot to fly the Max, giving us the assurance that it is now safe to fly."

EASA expects to issue the formal decision lifting the grounding in mid-January, it said.

Mr Ky had previously said in October that he was satisfied with the changes Boeing made to the plane after two crashes within five months killed 346 people, leading to the global grounding of the 737 Max fleet in March 2019.

Boeing International president Michael Arthur heralded EASA's decision as "great news" as he spoke at a conference in Berlin, saying that it marked the beginning of the end of the road to recertification. The plane is likely to be flying before the end of the year in the US, Mr Arthur added.

EU approval is needed for Boeing to begin delivering the Max to customers in the region such as discount carrier Ryanair Holdings plc. The deliveries will help the US planemaker to unlock about US$12 billion in cash that's tied up in hundreds of jetliners built during the global grounding.

EASA's airworthiness directive requires nearly the same changes that the FAA has mandated, differing in two areas, the regulator said. EASA will allow pilots to disable a "stick shaker" warning if it has erroneously been activated, to prevent flight crews from being distracted, and will mandate that the plane's autopilot system should not be used for certain landings. BLOOMBERG

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