BOEING has been told that it can fly its 737 MAX jet again, following a 20-month flight ban due to two fatal disasters.
The US Federal Aviation Administration said a number of software upgrades and training changes had to be made, before commercial flights were allowed to resume though.
The 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people within five months in 2018 and 2019, and triggered a hailstorm of investigations, frayed US leadership in global aviation and cost Boeing around $20 billion.
The US planemaker’s best-selling jet will resume commercial service in a tough market – the coronavirus pandemic has ruined the travel industry.
Families of the Ethiopian crash victims said in a statement on Wednesday that they felt “sheer disappointment and renewed grief” following the FAA’s decision to return the aircraft to service.
“Our family was broken,” Naoise Ryan, whose 39-year-old husband died aboard Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, said on Tuesday.
The 737 MAX is a re-engined upgrade of a jet first introduced in the 1960s. Single-aisle jets like the MAX and rival Airbus A320neo are workhorses that dominate global fleets and provide a major source of industry profit.
Of the US airlines with 737 MAX jets, American Airlines plans to relaunch the first commercial MAX flight since the grounding on December 29, followed by United Airlines in the first quarter of 2021 and Southwest Airlines in the second quarter next year.
Leading regulators in Europe, Brazil and China must issue their own approvals for their airlines after independent reviews.
When it does fly, Boeing will be running a 24-hour war room to monitor all MAX flights for issues that could impact the jet’s return, from stuck landing gear to health emergencies, three people familiar with the matter said.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order lifting the flight ban early on Wednesday and the agency released an airworthiness directive detailing the required changes.
“We’ve done everything humanly possible to make sure” these types of crashes do not happen again, Dickson told Reuters, saying he felt “100 per cent confident” in the plane’s safety.
The FAA is requiring new pilot training and software upgrades to deal with a stall-prevention system called MCAS, which in both crashes repeatedly and powerfully shoved down the jet’s nose as pilots struggled to regain control.
The FAA, which has faced accusations of being too close to Boeing in the past, said it would no longer allow Boeing to sign off on the airworthiness of some 450 737 MAXs built and parked during the flight ban.
It plans in-person inspections that could take a year or more to complete, prolonging the jets’ delivery.
Boeing is scrambling to keep up maintenance and find new buyers for many of its mothballed 737 MAXs, after receiving cancellations from their original buyers.
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The chief executive of Boeing urged staff to speak up whenever they see behavior going against values of safety, quality and integrity.
“We have implemented a series of meaningful changes to strengthen the safety practices and culture of our company,” Dave Calhoun told employees in a letter.
Boeing faces lawsuits from crash victim families.