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Boeing not forecasting timetable for 737 MAX 10 approval

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By Eric M. Johnson and David Shepardson

EVERETT, Wash./WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Boeing Co on Wednesday said it was making progress with regulators on its 737 MAX 10 aircraft but declined to offer a clear timeline on when it expects to win approval, in a tougher regulatory climate.

Boeing has a December deadline to win approval for the 737 MAX 10 - the largest member of its best-selling single-aisle airplane family. Otherwise, it must meet new cockpit alerting requirements under a 2020 law, unless Congress waives it.

The deadline for changes was introduced as part of broader regulatory reforms at the Federal Aviation Administration after fatal 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019.

"We really need to complete a good proportion of the development assurance work," Mike Fleming, a senior vice president at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told reporters on a second day of briefings ahead of Britain's Farnborough Airshow next month.

"It's taking longer to get approval of our documents than it has in the past."

Both the FAA and Boeing are working through a process that is different from what Boeing has done in the past, making it a challenge, said Fleming. The regulators control the timeframe and it is incumbent on Boeing to deliver on the certification plan, he said. As an example, Fleming said the FAA has taken ownership of certifying Boeing safety assessments that deal with how pilots interact with systems known as "human factors." Previously, that work was delegated to Boeing's engineers.

Fleming said Boeing has brought on hundreds of engineers to work on certification. Missing the deadline for the 737 MAX 10 could require Boeing to revamp the jet's crew alerting system and institute separate pilot training, which would raise costs to airlines and put orders at risk.

In March, the FAA warned Boeing it may not win certification of the MAX 10 by the end of the year and asked the company to provide a "mature certification schedule."

Sources briefed on the matter told Reuters it is not certain Boeing has enough time to win approval by December.

"Safety dictates the timeline of certification projects," an FAA spokesperson said. "We cannot discuss ongoing certification projects."

Unlike other Boeing aircraft, the 737 lacks the Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System known as EICAS, which complies with the FAA regulation.

Boeing has grappled with festering industrial and certification issues across its jetliner portfolio, magnified by supply chain disruptions fueled by labor and parts shortages.

During a later briefing, Boeing marketing executive Darren Hulst acknowledged a narrowbody sales gap with rival Airbus SE, but expressed confidence the 737 MAX 10 and smaller variants would serve the core of the medium-haul market. Airbus' long-range A321XLR serves a fraction of the market, Hulst added.

Airbus' newest and largest narrowbody airliner staged its maiden flight https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/airbus-a321xlr-jetliner-stages-maiden-flight-2022-06-15 hours earlier, as the European planemaker seeks to capitalize on lucrative demand for long-range single-aisle jets.

"While it's not an insignificant part of the market, we don't think it's even half of the market demand going forward," Hulst said.

Asked about Boeing's next airplane product, Hulst said it was an "open question" on whether a large narrowbody or small twin-aisle would best address Airbus' advantage, adding the decision was wrapped up technology and market shifts.

Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun told a conference earlier this month it would be "at least a couple of years" before digital manufacturing tools were mature enough to support a new aircraft program.

Later, a Boeing cargo executive hinted at the possibility the planemaker would do a freighter version of its 787 Dreamliner, as it weighs how to respond to stricter pollution standards that will sideline the 767 later this decade.

"We're not going to abandon the space," said freighter customer leader Brian Hermesmeyer. "We will make sure that we have the right airplanes in the right space for the market."

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Everett; writing by David Shepardson in Washington; editing by Deepa Babington and David Gregorio)

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