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FAA investigating origins of electrical grounding issue on some Boeing 737 Max planes

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

Mike Siegel | Getty Images

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

The agency a day earlier ordered fixes to address electrical issues on 109 737 Max aircraft, 71 of them in the U.S. The FAA said there is insufficient electrical grounding in some areas of the cockpit of certain jets. The issue, which arose after a design change in early 2019, could ultimately affect systems such as engine ice protection if not addressed, the FAA said in its order.

The issue isn’t tied to the system implicated in two fatal crashes that grounded Boeing’s bestselling jet for nearly two years. But the grounding comes just as the company is trying to repair its reputation after the crashes.

The manufacturer said Wednesday it paused deliveries of new Max planes as it addresses the problem and CEO Dave Calhoun warned investors that April deliveries will be “light” as a result.

The FAA said Thursday that it is also auditing Boeing’s process for making minor design changes throughout its product line, “with the goal of identifying areas where the company can improve its processes.” The audit and investigation were reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

“These initiatives are part of our commitment to continually evaluating and improving our oversight of all aspects of aviation safety, recognizing that catching errors at the earliest possible point enhances what is already the world’s safest form of transportation,” the FAA said in a statement.

Boeing said it is working “closely with the FAA and our customers to address the ground path issue in affected 737s. We look forward to ongoing engagement with, and direction from, the FAA as we continuously improve safety and quality in our processes.”

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

Carriers are awaiting a final service bulletin to fix the problem and have been putting tools and other materials in place for when it is issued, two industry sources said.

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