Russia suspends airworthiness certification for Boeing 737s, but does not prohibit operation of 737s

Last Update: November 6, 2015 / 23:17:48 GMT/Zulu time

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Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK), equipped with this power by Russia's Ministry of Transport (Rostransnadzor) and Russia's Civil Aviation Authority (Rosaviatsia), have decided to suspend the airworthiness certification of the Boeing 737 family stating that deficiencies in the aircraft's elevator system need to be addressed before safe continuation of operation can be ensured.

The MAK argues that on Oct 9th 2015, after receiving according requests by Rosaviatsia, the MAK sent out inquiries to the FAA, the reply from the FAA received by Oct 27th 2015 however was not able to remove doubts on the safe operation of the elevator system of the Boeing 737 family.

The MAK further elaborates that for more than a year the MAK was working with the US Authorities already to review and address issues in the elevator system, however, the MAK did not become aware of any modifications having been done during that time.

Therefore, as the safe operation of Boeing 737 family aircraft can not be ensured, the operation of all Boeing 737 family aircraft has been suspended in the territory of the Russian Federation. The Civil Aviation Authorities of Ireland and Bermuda, many aircraft operated in Russia being registered by these authorities, have been informed about that suspension of airworthiness certification too.

Russia's Ministry of Transport stated in response to the letter by the MAK, that the "MAK can not stop the operation of the Boeing 737 by Russian airlines by its decision to revoke the airworthiness certificate. Only a specially empowered federal executive authority can prohibit the operation of a specific aircraft type. This authority has not made this decision."

Russia's Rosaviatsia announced in the evening in response to the letter of the MAK on the MAK website, that Rosaviatsia have not received the original letter so far, but were e-mailed a copy from Rostransnadzor, in addition the letter was posted on the MAK website. "Given the seriousness of such a notification Rosaviatsia is going to hold a meeting on Nov 6th 2015 with Russian Airlines operating the Boeing 737 together with the heads of the MAK." Rosaviatsia pointed out that Rostransnadzor had already stated that the MAK can not prohibit operation of the Boeing 737 by revoking the airworthiness certification, only an accordingly empowered federal agency can do so.

At the time of the release of this letter the investigation into the crash of a Tatarstan Airlines Boeing 737-500, see Crash: Tatarstan B735 at Kazan on Nov 17th 2013, crashed on go-around, is going to conclude, comments from the parties involved were collected and a final report is due. The letter however does not state what the deficiencies identified are and whether the decision is linked to that crash. The MAK had reported in 2014 that there were no technical issues identified, however, also stated in 2013 during the course of the investigation that after the autopilot was disconnected, the stabilizer trim - most likely automatically - wound down (which, after autopilot disconnection, would mean a trim run away).

On Nov 6th 2015 the MAK explained that in the beginning of the investigation into the crash of VQ-BBN, the crash of Tatarstan's Boeing 737-500, see above, officials of the Ministry of Transport repeatedly asked whether the cause of the accident had been the elevator system controlling the aircraft's pitch and pressed for urgent modifications of that system. On April 17th 2015 the final report was finished, all parties involved into the investigation including the Ministry, Rosaviatsia, the investigators from the France, USA, UK and Bermuda, put their signature on this document. However, in June 2015 the representative of Rosaviatsia withdrew their signature and the Ministry again stated their opinion that the cause of the crash was the malfunction of the pitch control system due to constructive deficiencies in the 737 elevator system. Consequently the MAK sent a formal inquiry with the FAA, the reply by which did not satisfy the requirements to ensure safe operation of the aircraft. As result, the MAK was forced to suspend the airworthiness certification of the Boeing 737 family aircraft. The MAK concluded their release of Nov 6th: "The MAK believes real and immediate action required for the safe operation of the Boeing 737 can not be substituted by PR activities and pressures onto independent investigation and certification bodies. (Editorial note: A Russian citizen amongst our readers summarized this press release as follows: "despite the full and thorough examination of the elevator control systems on B737 during the course of the VQ-BBN investigation, and the fact that all the parties (including Rosaviatsia) accepted and signed the final report without any objections or comments, Rosaviatsia suddenly recalled its signature and reinstated its position that the accident was caused by design defects of B737. FAA didn't alleviate these "concerns" to the satisfaction of Rosaviatsia, Rosaviatsia didn't do anything on its part either, leaving the whole situation hanging, so MAK got fed up and pissed off and pulled the formal card of revoking the type certificate to spite Rosaviatsia, I would guess). That also explains why the VQ-BBN report isn't published yet.")

On Nov 6th 2015 Russia's Civil Aviation Authority Rosaviatsia reported, that the meeting announced the previous day took place, invited were also the head of MAK as well as the head of MAK's certification department, both of which did not attend the meeting, a representative by the MAK provided the meeting with the letters and statements released by the MAK. Rosaviatsia took note of the original letter released on Nov 5th 2015 and the statement of MAK published on their website on Nov 6th 2015 and stated, that the claims by MAK in their statement of Nov 6th with respect to the final report of the investigation were not true. Rosaviatsia stated, that it was unethical and unprofessional to talk about certain aspects of the investigation and bring them into media before the final report was released and the investigation results become open to discussion. Rosaviatsia added that it is necessary to take legal action to protect rights of the general public, in particular rights of passengers depending on airlines operating Boeing 737s. "The meeting was unanimous in the fact that at the present there are no grounds for termination of operation of Boeing 737 family aircraft, registered in the Russian Federation or other countries. Therefore operation of the Boeing 737 will continue on the same base as before.

On Nov 6th 2015 the FAA stated in response to the letter by MAK published on Nov 5th: "The FAA is assisting the Russian accident investigation authority as an "advisor" to the NTSB, which was appointed a U.S. "accredited representative" for the investigation into the 2013 Boeing 737 accident in Kazan, Russia. In accordance with international ICAO and NTSB protocols for foreign accident investigations involving U.S. aircraft, the FAA cannot comment on the ongoing investigation."

Late Nov 6th 2015 the MAK announced, that the paper suspending the airworthiness certificate of the Boeing 737 family was handed over to the FAA on Nov 5th 2015 during a meeting with FAA representatives. On Nov 6th 2015 the MAK received Boeing's position on the issue and started consideration of the submission.
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