PARIS, Nov 22 (Reuters): Europe is set to lift its flight ban on the Boeing 737 MAX passenger jetliner in January after US regulators last week ended a 20-month grounding triggered by two fatal crashes.
The head of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said in remarks aired on Saturday that the 737 MAX was safe to fly after changes to the design of the jet that crashed twice in five months in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people.
"We wanted to carry out a totally independent analysis of the safety of this aircraft, so we performed our own checks and flight tests," Executive Director Patrick Ky told the Paris Air Forum, an online aviation conference hosted by La Tribune.
"All these studies tell us that the 737 MAX can return to service. We have started to put in place all the measures," he said. "It is likely that in our case we will adopt the decisions, allowing it to return to service, some time in January."
EASA's decision is seen as the most important milestone after the FAA's approval since, as the watchdog responsible for Airbus, it too carries significant weight in the industry.
Officials confirmed a draft EASA directive proposing to end the grounding in Europe will be published next week, followed by a 30-day comment period. After finishing touches, that would lead to an ungrounding decision in January.
How long it takes for flights to resume in Europe depends on pilot training and the amount of time it takes airlines to upgrade software and carry out other actions mandated by EASA.
In the United States, commercial flights are scheduled to start on Dec. 29, just under six weeks after the FAA order was published on Nov 18.