Boeing 737 Max Cleared to Return to Skies

A Boeing 737 Max jet, piloted by FAA chief Steve Dickson, prepares to land following a test flight in Seattle in September. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(CN) — A year and a half after a pair of deadly crashes grounded the aircraft worldwide, the Boeing 737 Max has been cleared for takeoff again by the Federal Aviation Administration.  

In a statement released Wednesday morning, the FAA said the recent completion of a 20-month investigation led to the signing of an order allowing the beleaguered 737 Max to take to the skies once again.

“The design and certification of this aircraft included an unprecedented level of collaborative and independent reviews by aviation authorities around the world,” the agency said. “Those regulators have indicated that Boeing’s design changes, together with the changes to crew procedures and training enhancements, will give them the confidence to validate the aircraft as safe to fly in their respective countries and regions.”

The order was accompanied by an airworthiness directive which will require specific design changes and training requirements for flight crews before any 737 Max can take off. 

The aircraft was grounded in the U.S. and 39 other countries after the deadly Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash in March 2019, which was the second in less than five months involving the 737 Max after Lion Air Flight 610 crashed off the coast of Indonesia in October 2018. 

The FAA’s investigation report, also released Wednesday morning, outlined seven safety changes including adjustments made to the plane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, the flight-control system found to be a leading cause of the two crashes that killed 346 people.

“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” Boeing CEO David Calhoun said in a statement following the FAA’s announcement. He added the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes allowed the company to learn lessons that reshaped its approach and “further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity.”

The announcement also follows the advancement of bipartisan legislation aimed at strengthening the FAA’s certification process and improving the aviation regulatory system overall.

The Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act, introduced in September by two Democrats and two Republicans on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, creates new safety review boards and requires new system safety assessments. 

“This bill will help ensure the United States remains the gold standard in aviation safety and maintain our competitiveness in the aerospace sector,” Congressman Sam Graves, R-Mo., said in a statement introducing the bill.   

The Air Line Pilots Association International praised both the legislative proposal and the FAA’s order in a statement Wednesday.   

“Based on the airworthiness directive, 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 group, which represents 59,000 pilots at 35 U.S. and Canadian airlines.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, a union representing 50,000 flight attendants, also praised the steps taken by the agency and the company. 

“Today is a new day for the 737 Max as worldwide confidence is garnered in its return to service,” said the group’s president, Sara Nelson.

She said flight attendants will be there to answer travelers’ questions after they’ve boarded a plane that’s spent a year and a half on the ground.

“We will continue to work as one crew with our pilots and engage with Boeing, the FAA, worldwide aviation, and all aviation unions to ensure the safe return to service,” Nelson added.

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