FAA investigates the origins of the electrical grounding problem on certain Boeing 737 Max planes

FAA Chief Steve Dickson flies a Boeing 737 MAX from Boeing Field September 30, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.

Mike Siegel | Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday it was investigating the origins of a manufacturing problem that led to the recent grounding of dozens of Boeing 737 Max planes earlier this month.

The day before, the agency ordered fixes to resolve the electrical issues with 109,737 Max, including 71 in the U.S. The FAA said electrical grounding was insufficient in some areas of the cockpit of some jets. The problem, which arose after a design change in early 2019, could eventually affect systems such as engine ice protection if left unresolved, the FAA said in its order.

The problem is unrelated to the system involved in two fatal crashes that brought Boeing’s best-selling aircraft to a standstill for almost two years. But the grounding comes as Boeing tries to repair its reputation after the crashes.

The manufacturer said on Wednesday that it interrupted deliveries new Max planes because it fixes the problem and CEO Dave Calhoun has warned investors that April deliveries would be “light” as a result.

The FAA said Thursday it is also auditing Boeing’s process to make minor design changes to its product line, “in an effort to identify areas where the company can improve its processes.

Boeing did not immediately comment on the audit and investigation, which had been reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.

“These initiatives are part of our commitment to continuously assess and improve our oversight of all aspects of aviation safety, recognizing that catching errors as early as possible improves what is already the safest form of transportation in the world,” the FAA said in a statement.

The latest Max grounding doesn’t affect the entire global fleet, but it was ordered just as some carriers are eager to fly more planes to meet a rebound in travel demand.

The carriers are awaiting a final service bulletin to resolve the issue and have tools and other materials in place for the time of publication, two industry sources said.

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