Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft has been given approval to fly passengers again. The aircraft was grounded by safety regulators around the world in March 2019 after two crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
Steve Dickson, chief of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said it had passed the 737 Max as fit to fly following extensive work on the aircraft to address the issues that caused the accidents, with particular focus on improvements to the plane’s automated flight control system.
Dickson, who piloted the 737 Max himself following the safety updates, said in a video message posted on Wednesday, November 18, “I can tell you now that I am 100% comfortable with my family flying on it.”
The certification doesn’t mean that the aircraft will immediately return to service, as the FAA still has to approve the Max pilot training program for every U.S. carrier operating the Max. But it is clearly the most significant step forward for the beleaguered aircraft since its grounding last year.
Other regulators in the more than 30 countries where the Max was flying will have to make their own judgments about whether to give the Max the green light for operation in their own territory, though as many of them worked with the FAA on efforts to return the aircraft to service, it seems likely that many will follow suit.
But whether passengers will want to fly on it is another question altogether.
Moving forward, the required safety updates will be made to each existing 737 Max aircraft, while the FAA will also inspect every newly built 737 Max before issuing an airworthiness certificate.
To date, in the U.S. only American Airlines has scheduled the Max for a small number of flights between New York and Miami from the end of next month. Meanwhile, United may return its Max aircraft to the skies in the first quarter of 2021, with Southwest sending it skyward again in the spring of 2021. The redeployment of the aircraft will also be impacted by COVID-19, with the virus having decimated the travel industry since its emergence at the start of this year.
During an investigation into the accidents, Boeing came in for heavy criticism after it emerged that a number of employees at the aerospace giant had their own concerns about the design of the 737 Max during the original approval process.
The first of the two 737 Max crashes happened in October 2018 when a Lion Air flight came down shortly after takeoff near Jakarta, Indonesia, resulting in the deaths of all 157 people on board. Five months later, in March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed near Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, killing 189 people.
“Not a day goes by when I and my colleagues don’t think about the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines victims and their families and our solemn responsibility to identify and address the issues that played a role in the accidents,” Dickson said.
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