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By Andy Pasztor
The Federal Aviation Administration is mandating a new round of safety fixes before Boeing Co.'s 737 MAX jets can return to the air, this time targeting assembly-line lapses that could result in dual-engine power loss in the event of a lightning strike.
The proposed directive, posted Tuesday on the Federal Register's website, would require inspecting and fixing a metallic lining that serves as a shield against lightning strikes for engine-control wiring. The FAA said cuts or tears in that aluminum-foil layer, located inside panels that cover engine attachments on the wings, could cause simultaneous loss of thrust in both engines.
The document immediately covers 128 737 MAX jets registered in the U.S., but the FAA said it is applicable to all MAX aircraft assembled so far because the entire fleet "may be affected by the identified unsafe condition." -
A Boeing spokesman said the lightning-protection issues aren't expected to affect anticipated initial return of the planes around mid-2020. The FAA said it could take an estimated 12 hours of work for mechanics to check and repair the problem on each plane.
The move Tuesday comes after Boeing informed FAA officials that separate inspections have revealed more than two-thirds of undelivered MAX planes have some type of debris in their fuel tanks.
The FAA also is leaning toward requiring Boeing to relocate certain wiring bundles, some of which are located behind the cockpit and under the cabin floor, due to concerns that an electrical short circuit could result in potentially catastrophic flight-control difficulties that pilots would be unable to correct.
Roughly 700 MAX jets are grounded world-wide as Boeing, the FAA and international aviation regulators devise software fixes and revised pilot-training requirements to enable them to return to service. The planes have been idled for nearly a year in the wake of two crashes that took 346 lives.
The hazard stemming from the damaged lightning-protection feature was first reported by the New York Times.
FAA officials recently have shifted part of their focus to delve into production shortcomings, after months working primarily to address design and pilot-training issues related to the MAX. The agency has said FAA inspectors will increase oversight of assembly-line practices after Boeing resumes MAX production.
The agency has said it intends to check the condition and safety compliance of each MAX airliner before permitting it to carry passengers, a change from past practice. Traditionally, the FAA has delegated such approvals to Boeing and intends to continue doing so for planes other than the MAX.
FAA chief Steve Dickson has publicly urged the Chicago plane maker to tighten its own quality-control checks and safety procedures related to assembly operations.
Boeing said Tuesday the lightning-strike vulnerability affects only MAX planes built between February 2018 and June 2019. But in its directive, the FAA expanded the scope of the inspections to cover all MAX aircraft, concluding the company's earlier voluntary service bulletin wasn't comprehensive enough. Boeing stopped assembling the MAX in December.
Write to Andy Pasztor at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 25, 2020 13:20 ET (18:20 GMT)
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