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U.S. transportation chief asks new FAA head to review agency in wake of 737 MAX crashes

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said on Monday she has asked the new head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to assess the agency’s performance in the wake of two fatal crashes of Boeing Co’s (BA.N) 737 MAX planes since October.

Chao, who administered the oath of office to new FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) executive, at an event in Washington, said Dickson’s arrival “is an important opportunity to take stock of how well the FAA is doing in carrying out its critical safety functions.”

She added that she has asked Dickson “to assess the performance of the agency and the results of the ongoing investigations to make recommendations about any needed reforms.”

Dickson reiterated the position of his predecessor, Dan Elwell, who has been the acting FAA chief since January 2018, that the Boeing 737 MAX “will not fly in commercial service until I am completely satisfied that it is safe to do so. FAA is following no timeline in returning the aircraft to service. Rather we are going to where the facts lead us.”

Major U.S. airlines have canceled flights into November as a result of the MAX grounding. Boeing said last month it plans to conduct a certification test flight in the “September time frame.” Some officials do not expect the 737 MAX to actually resume flights until early 2020.

Federal prosecutors, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general, Congress and several blue-ribbon panels are investigating how the FAA certifies new aircraft. Last month, U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said his agency would outline recommendations on the FAA’s aircraft certification procedures by late September.

Elwell will remain as deputy FAA administrator.

Reporting by David Shepardson, editing by G Crosse and Grant McCool

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