By Todd Horwitz

Boeing Struggles Continue

The global grounding of Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX is bound to stretch to nearly a year as U.S. regulators chided the plane maker for its slow delivery of information and warned it against setting unrealistic expectations for the jetliner’s return to service.

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to approve fixes to a MAX flight-control system and related pilot training no sooner than February, about two months beyond what Boeing recently envisioned, according to people familiar with the matter. That means the troubled airliner might not carry passengers in the U.S. until the spring, with resumption of service in Europe and elsewhere likely coming weeks afterward. The new hurdles came into focus Thursday with a pair of unusual statements from the FAA to congressional committees, calling out Boeing for not providing timely information and for its public push for an accelerated end to the grounding.

During the recent pilot trials, which tested how crews react to various scenarios involving the revised 737 Max flight control software and new checklists, all the pilots managed to get themselves out of trouble, but Boeing and regulators found that “more than half…of pilots responded with the wrong procedures,” according to one of the three people briefed on the results that are currently being analyzed by the FAA and other global regulators. The uncertain results of the evaluations are likely to re-energize the debate about the necessity for additional simulator training for pilots prior flying the 737 Max again.

“The administrator is concerned that Boeing continues to pursue a return-to-service schedule that is not realistic due to delays that have accumulated for a variety of reasons,” the email said. “More concerning, the administrator wants to directly address the perception that some of Boeing’s public statements have been designed to force FAA into taking quicker action.”

The administrator’s message, according to the email, was to convey that the agency and manufacturer “must take the time to get this process right.” One of the people familiar with the FAA’s plans said the approval could slip into March in part because of the regulator’s aim to brief their international counterparts before ungrounding the U.S. MAX fleet.

“We will work with the FAA to support their requirements and their timeline as we work to safely return the Max to service in 2020,” Boeing said Thursday. “Dennis Muilenburg and Stan Deal had a productive meeting today with Administrator Dickson and Deputy Administrator Elwell,” the company said. Shortly after the meeting, the FAA’s legislative office sent a follow-up email to lawmakers saying Mr. Dickson told Boeing that the company’s focus should be on the “quality and timeliness of data submittals for FAA review.”

Todd “Bubba” Horwitz