KEY POINTS

  • Steve Dickson revealed rebuke to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg in an email to lawmakers
  • FAA expressed concern at Boeing pursuing a "return-to-service schedule that is not realistic"
  • FAA tells Boeing to focus on the quality and timeliness of data submittals for review

The chief of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has chided Boeing's chief executive on the company's relentless push to speed up the recertification of the troubled 737 Max airplane, and said that the agency's certification requirements "must be 100% complete" before the plane can fly again.

Boeing has made repeated statements about its expectations of when the 737 Max, its best-selling passenger plane before two deadly crashes that killed 346 people  led to its grounding -- will return to service. Those statements were seen as a pressure tactic on the watchdog to speed up the recertification process. Boeing, which took a $4.9 billion charge in the second quarter for prolonged disruptions from the plane's grounding, has repeatedly offered timelines on when it will return to service. Those deadlines have all slipped and, on Nov. 15, FAA chief Steve Dickson told agency staff in a video to resiste pressures to recertify the plane, telling them "I've got your back."

Dickson, who was grilled for hours by lawmakers at a Wednesday hearing by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, revealed his rebuke to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg in an email sent to lawmakers. “The administrator recommended to Mr. Muilenburg that Boeing’s focus should be on the quality and timeliness of data submittals for FAA review. He made clear that FAA’s certification requirements must be 100% complete before return to service,” the agency stated in the public email sent to the Congressional Aviation Oversight Committee after a meeting between Dickson, Muilenburg, and Stan Deal, the company's executive vice president for commercial airplanes. The meeting was called by the FAA.

The rebuke will pile pressure on Muilenburg, whose was stripped of the chairman's title by the company's board following the grounding of the plane.

Dozens of grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked on the apron in Washington state Dozens of grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked on the apron in Washington state Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / David Ryder

In the email Dickson expressed concern at Boeing pursuing a "return-to-service schedule that is not realistic due to delays that have accumulated for a variety of reasons.” He also directly referenced Boeing's statements on the recertification of the plane: “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 FAA is treading cautiously as it has taken flak for its cozy relationship with Boeing, which led to handing over large parts of the 737 Max's initial certification to the plane maker. Earlier this week it was revealed that the agency allowed the plane to fly despite an internal report that predicted 15 crashes in the aircraft’s 45-year lifetime due to design flaws.

“I think Boeing doesn’t seem to realize the political realities of what’s happened and there’s a little institutional hubris still in play. Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at Washington-based aerospace consultancy Teal Group told Bloomberg. "They think they’re in the driver’s seat and they’re really not. The sound you hear in the background is everybody like me adding another month to the schedule.”

Even after Boeing meets the FAA recertification requirements, it still would have to deal with various national regulators who have said they will allow the plane to fly only after their own recertification process.