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By Robert Wall
Airbus SE's new chief operating officer Tuesday said the European plane maker expects more regulatory scrutiny after two crashes by Boeing Co.'s 737 MAX jets have raised questions about safety oversight.
Regulators "will become stricter," Michael Schoellhorn said. He added that oversight of Airbus wasn't lax, but "could there be an effect that they double or triple check even more? Could be." What the fallout might be is still unclear, he added.
A MAX flight-control feature has been implicated in aircraft crashes in Indonesia last year and in Ethiopia in March, leading to the fleet's global grounding. The incidents also have spurred a review of the regulatory oversight of Boeing by the Federal Aviation Administration. U.S. lawmakers and the FAA itself are probing whether the MAX received adequate safety scrutiny. Some lawmakers are questioning an FAA policy to delegate some safety judgments on the plane to Boeing under established procedures.
Mr. Schoellhorn said any changes made in the U.S. safety-oversight process also could have ripple effects in Europe.
Also under scrutiny in the U.S. and elsewhere is the policy that allowed the MAX to win safety approvals without undergoing a full new-aircraft review process. The MAX has roots in a 1960s plane design that has been repeatedly updated. The safety approvals since the program first won regulatory backing largely has focused on only the features that have incrementally changed.
Boeing and the FAA have defended the MAX's approval process.
Airbus Tuesday supported the idea of upgrading older-model planes for efficiency -- instead of always pursuing brand-new designs. The European aerospace giant played down the idea that the latest version of its rival's planes was flawed because it was another upgrade. "The MAX is not one stretch too many," Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer said.
Airbus has made upgrading existing planes a core part of its product strategy, too, modernizing its narrowbodies and A330 wide-bodies with new engines. It now is working on an upgrade of its A321LR, which itself was an upgrade of an earlier version of its largest narrow body. Mr. Scherer said upgrading planes still makes sense in cases where incremental improvements don't warrant a brand new design. The A321 could be further upgraded even beyond the so called A321XLR now in the concept sage, he added.
Mr. Scherer reiterated Airbus's position that the MAX grounding hasn't been a benefit for the European plane maker. He also expressed concern the MAX crisis could dent public confidence in the safety of commercial air transport more broadly, echoing the CEO of Airbus.
Airbus officials also worry that the MAX situation could create lasting fissures between aviation safety regulators in the U.S. and abroad, hindering the approval of new planes.
The FAA, the principal safety regulator for Boeing planes, this week plans to host some of its foreign counterparts to discuss its plan to evaluate the MAX before it is cleared to fly again. Boeing has been working on a fix to a flight control system flaw implicated in the two accidents.
Europe's air safety regulator has said it would work with the FAA, but is also undertaking an independent review of the MAX.
Airbus also said it has devised upgrades for the A220 single-aisle plane it acquired from Canada's Bombardier Inc. The change will allow the plane to carry 2.3 metric tons more weight, which translates into more fuel and an additional range of around 450 nautical miles. That capability should be available from the second half of 2020, Airbus said.
Mr. Scherer also played down concerns that low order bookings at Airbus and Boeing so far this year suggested demand for new planes was slumping. "It is only natural that you see ups and downs," he said. "I do not believe we are at the end of a cycle."
Write to Robert Wall at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 21, 2019 09:36 ET (13:36 GMT)
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