US authorities lift Boeing 737 MAX grounding, allow jets to resume flights
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The Federal Aviation Administration has re-certified the Boeing 737 MAX, allowing the beleaguered jet to return to U.S. skies 20-months after it was grounded following two fatal crashes.
All MAX jets must undergo certain modifications that largely focus on the software behind the flight control systems that downed the two jets, a Lion Air 737 MAX 9 in late 2018 and an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 in March 2019 that together took 346 lives. In addition, pilots must undergo new required training before they fly the plane.
“I am 100% comfortable with my family flying on it this morning,” said FAA administrator Steve Dickson in a video message detailing the ungrounding order. A certified pilot, Dickson underwent the required training and flew a MAX jet to review the changes in September.
The ungrounding paves the way for American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines to resume the 737 MAX flights they suspended when the jet was grounded. American is due to be the first with passenger flights set to resume between Miami (MIA) and New York LaGuardia (LGA) on 29 December. The airline plans for non-commercial flights to begin in early December.
“There is much work to be done before our MAX aircraft will resume service, which we estimate will likely take place no sooner than the second quarter of 2021,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a staff memo on Wednesday.
United plans to resume flying MAXes in the first quarter after it has “completed more than 1,000 hours of work on every aircraft,” said spokesperson Frank Benenati.
The fourth U.S. MAX customer, Alaska Airlines, can also begin taking deliveries of the jet that were supposed to begin arriving in 2019. The Seattle-based carrier has 37 MAXes on order.
“The FAA’s directive is an important milestone,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO Stan Deal said in a statement. “We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the aeroplane back into service worldwide.”
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Pilots are a key stakeholder in returning the MAX to passenger service. Several unions have been outspoken for additional training and other measures for cockpit crewmembers before the jets return to regular flying.
“ALPA believes that the engineering fixes to the flight-critical aircraft systems are sound and will be an effective component that leads to the safe return to service of the 737 MAX,” said the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) that represents pilots at Alaska and at United about the FAA’s order.
Spokespeople for the Allied Pilots Association (APA) that represents pilots at American, and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) that represents crews at Southwest were not immediately available for comment.
The ungrounding also comes as something of a relief to Boeing. The Chicago-based planemaker has been rocked, first by the suspension of its latest model of its bread-and-butter 737 jet and now the coronavirus pandemic. To date in 2020, Boeing has posted a net loss of 846 orders across all of its commercial aircraft programs.
The planemaker has been forced to retrench as orders have dried up. Boeing will consolidate production of the 787 at its North Charleston, South Carolina, plant in mid-2021 in a blow to its long-standing production presence at Paine Field north of Seattle. It will also close the venerable 747 line in 2022 and has laid off thousands of staff.
But the MAX ungrounding may be the turning point Boeing needs. Reports indicate that a new order from Alaska as well as a deal from Southwest to buy “white tails” — already produced jets with no buyer — may be in the offing.
“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” David Calhoun, CEO of Boeing, said in a statement. “These events and the lessons we have learned as a result have reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity.”
Boeing’s MAX saga is not over with the FAA’s order. Transport Canada continues its own “independent validation process” with an aim to complete the evaluation soon in order to allow Air Canada and WestJet to resume flights. In addition, other global regulators have yet to unground the jet, including those in China and Europe.
In the interim, Reuters reports that Boeing has set up a “24-hour war room” to monitor all global MAX flights for anything that could hamper its return to service.
Related: FAA grounds every 737 MAX in the US
Featured image by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images.
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