American Airlines has become the first U.S. carrier to return Boeing’s troubled 737 Max aircraft to commercial service after the plane was grounded globally in 2019 following two fatal crashes that killed 346 people.
After nearly two years of research, assessment, and repair work, the jet was recently cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly again.
American Airlines flight 718 departed Miami International Airport at around 10.30 a.m. for New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday, December 29, completing the two-and-a-half-hour trip without incident.
Flightradar24 confirmed the aircraft’s departure, adding that American had become the third airline globally to resume commercial flights after GOL and Aeromexico.
The first @AmericanAir #737MAX revenue flight since March 2019 has just departed, making American the 3rd airline worldwide (after GOL and Aeromexico) and the 1st in the US to return the MAX to service. https://t.co/oVnrirdjPm pic.twitter.com/SKK0VgQqpE
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) December 29, 2020
American Airlines also tweeted about the flight once it had reached LaGuardia, revealing that the carrier’s president, Robert Isom, had been on board.
“Today we operated our first commercial flight on the Boeing 737 MAX since its extensive, 20-month recertification process with a flight crew who has 150+ combined years of experience,” American tweeted.
Today we operated our first commercial flight on the Boeing 737 MAX since its extensive, 20-month recertification process with a flight crew who has 150+ combined years of experience. The crew was proud to fly today's flight with our customers, family members and Robert Isom.
— americanair (@AmericanAir) December 29, 2020
United could start flying its Max aircraft again in early 2021, while Southwest is looking further ahead to the spring. Redeployment plans will be affected to some extent by flight demand in the wake of COVID-19, which has caused major disruption to the travel industry since it took hold earlier this year.
Aviation regulators around the world grounded the 737 Max in March 2019 after two fatal crashes in the space of five months. The first occurred in October 2018 when a Lion Air flight came down near Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 157 passengers and crew. Five months later, in March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed near Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, resulting in the deaths of all 189 people on board.
An investigation discovered 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. A scathing report from the House of Representatives in September 2020 said the crashes were “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.”
Around 500 Max jets were in service globally when the plane was taken out of service in 2019. Boeing has a further 400 in storage waiting to be delivered to customers, and is continuing to take orders for the aircraft. However, the big question is whether enough people will be willing to fly on a 737 Max — a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll of Americans suggested that of those aware of the plane’s history, 57% are reluctant to board the aircraft.
Relatives of the crash victims are unhappy with the FAA’s decision to recertify the 737 Max, and are now urging the European Union Aviation Safety Agency to hold back from granting flight permission until all of its questions regarding the plane’s safety have been answered.
In November, FAA chief Steve Dickson said extensive work had been carried out on the aircraft to address the issues that caused the accidents, adding that he is now “100% comfortable with my family flying on it.”
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