Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft is flying paying passengers again almost two years after it was grounded by two deadly crashes.
Following modifications to the aircraft’s software and additional pilot training specific to the Max, Brazil’s Gol Airlines became the first carrier to return the aircraft to the skies, flying a 737 Max 8 from Sao Paulo to Porto Alegre 530 miles to the south on Wednesday, December 9.
According to Flightradar24, the flight took around 75 minutes, with the aircraft traveling without incident to its scheduled destination.
638 days after the #737MAX last carried paying passengers and the fleet was grounded worldwide, @VoeGOLoficial becomes the first airline to return the aircraft to commercial service with #G34104. Follow live: https://t.co/URsnSMMZga pic.twitter.com/WGDJvoPFvr
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) December 9, 2020
Gol Airlines will launch a regular service using the 737 Max from next week, with the airline allowing passengers to exchange their ticket if they’d prefer not to fly on the aircraft, according to Associated Press. Indeed, as more airlines return the plane to commercial service, the industry will be watching closely to see how paying passengers respond.
Gol’s flight comes almost a month after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates U.S. airspace, gave approval for the Max to fly passengers again, with Brazil’s Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil, among other regulators around the world, following suit.
The FAA’s decision followed a long-running investigation into the two crashes, which killed a total of 346 people. Extensive work on the aircraft has been carried out to address the issues that caused the accidents, with particular focus on enhancing the plane’s automated flight control system.
In a video message posted last month, FAA chief Steve Dickson, who piloted the 737 Max himself following the safety updates, said: “I can tell you now that I am 100% comfortable with my family flying on it.”
In the U.S., only American Airlines has so far scheduled the Max for service, beginning later this month with a small number of flights between New York and Miami. United may return its Max aircraft to the skies in the early months of 2021, while Southwest plans to fly it again in the spring. The speed at which the 737 Max is redeployed will also depend on flight demand in the wake of COVID-19, with the virus having caused huge disruption to the travel industry since its emergence at the beginning of the year.
The 737 Max was grounded in March 2019 following two fatal accidents in the space of five months. The first happened in October 2018 when a Lion Air flight crashed near Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 157 passengers and crew. Five months later, in March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines plane came down near Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, resulting in the deaths of all 189 people on board.
It was found that the crashes were caused by a fault with the aircraft’s automated flight control system, which sent the planes into nosedives that the pilots were unable to correct. But as the investigation into the accidents continued, other problems with the plane surfaced that also had to be addressed.
Around 500 Max jets were in service globally when the aircraft was grounded. Boeing has a further 400 in storage waiting to be delivered to customers.
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