Boeing's troubled 737 MAX airliner, grounded for 18 months after two deadly accidents, could receive certification to fly again in Europe "by the end of the year", the EU's air safety chief said Friday.
Months after the crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX in Indonesia that killed 189 people, a second disaster involving an Ethiopian Airlines plane in which 157 died prompted flight bans around the world for the model.
Now "for the first time in a year and a half, I can see we're in sight of the end of the work on the MAX," European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) chief Patrick Ky told reporters in a video press conference.
"We're starting to look at how we can get the MAX back in service by the end of the year".
Early September certification flights by EASA followed June testing by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in June.
But the aircraft must still overcome several hurdles, including in pilot training, before authorities give their green light.
"We continue to follow the lead of global regulators on the process they have laid out for the safe return of the 737 MAX to commercial service," Boeing said in a statement.
"We appreciate the rigorous scrutiny that the regulatory authorities are rightly applying at every step of their review and they will determine the schedule for return to service."
In Ky's view, even with "just about simultaneous" permission from the EASA and FAA, it will be up to individual nations and airlines to give the go-ahead for 737 MAX flights to resume.
A US Congressional report published earlier this month called the earlier crashes "the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing's engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing's management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA."
Ky said that renewed certification from China, the first country to ground the aircraft, would "certainly" take a little longer as the Chinese regulator had yet to envisage resumption of flight tests.
But he added that a training review at London's Gatwick airport to help pilots adapt to new procedures had gone well and that a report evaluating that review would be ready in "two to three weeks."
Boeing shares were taking off on Wall Street Friday afternoon, having added 3.1 percent about two hours into the session, while the Dow Jones index was modestly higher overall.