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U.S. lawmakers back key Boeing 737 MAX deadline waiver

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WASHINGTON — Boeing Co won backing from Congress early on Tuesday to lift a looming deadline imposing a new safety standard for modern cockpit alerts for two new versions of the U.S. planemaker’s best-selling 737 MAX aircraft.

The company had been heavily lobbying for months to convince lawmakers to waive the Dec. 27 deadline that affects its MAX 7 and MAX 10 airplanes which was imposed by Congress in 2020 after two fatal 737 MAX crashes killed 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

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Congressional leaders attached the waiver to a bill to fund U.S. government operations and to require new safety enhancements for existing MAX aircraft proposed by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, according to the text made public early on Tuesday. Congress is expected to approve the legislation this week.

Reuters first reported the plan on Monday. Boeing has logged more than 1,000 orders for the two new versions of its best-selling MAX.

Some aviation unions had warned Congress in recent days that a failure to lift the deadline could threaten the new planes and cost jobs, while families of those killed in the two crashes and “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot Sully Sullenberger were among those opposed to it.

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Cantwell’s bill requires retrofitting existing MAX planes with a synthetic enhanced angle-of-attack system and the ability to shut off stall warning and overspeed alerts. It gives airline operators three years from the time the 737 MAX 10 is certified to retrofit existing MAX planes and says Boeing must bear those costs.

Faulty data from a single sensor erroneously activated a software function called MCAS and played critical roles in both fatal 737 MAX crashes, investigations found.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2020 required Boeing to retrofit planes to ensure MCAS would activate only if it received data from two AOA sensors. The new synthetic sensor will provide additional data to help prevent an erroneous MCAS activation, officials said.

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Boeing declined to comment on Monday, but Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Stan Deal said last week the planemaker supported Cantwell’s safety retrofit proposal.

Without action by Congress, after Dec. 27, all planes must have modern cockpit alerting systems in order to be certified by the FAA, which could jeopardize the futures of the MAX 7 and 10 or mean significant delays for the new aircrafts’ deployment.

The bill will allow the new MAX variants to have the same alerting systems as the MAX 8 and MAX 9 currently in service. The alerting requirement in the 2020 law that reformed aircraft certification does not apply to in-service MAX airplanes previously certified by the FAA.

Boeing said in October it expects the 737 MAX 7 to be certified this year or in 2023 and last week Boeing’s Deal said he thinks the MAX 10 could receive certification in late 2023 or early 2024. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Ed Osmond and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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