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Boeing receives FAA approval to fly its 737 Max after being grounded for more than a year


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given permission for the Boeing 737 MAX to fly again after being grounded for almost two years.

The top-selling planes were grounded in March 2019 after two deadly crashes barely five months apart claimed a total of 346 lives.

Regulators around the world grounded the Max in March 2019, after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet. Only five months before, another Max flown by Indonesia´s Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea. 

A total of 346 passengers and crew members on both planes were killed. 

Both disasters were due to a flaw in a safety system designed to prevent the nose of the plane from pitching up during flight.

Boeing must make software upgrades and training changes to resume commercial flights, but several U.S. carriers have already indicated they’ll resume using the 737 MAX, including United and American Airlines.

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The FAA has given the greenlight for the Boeing 737 MAX to resume use in the United States. Families of those killed say the agency 'is more concerned with saving Boeing's investment' than with safety

The FAA has given the greenlight for the Boeing 737 MAX to resume use in the United States. Families of those killed say the agency ‘is more concerned with saving Boeing’s investment’ than with safety

An upgrade of a jet first introduced in the 1960s, the 737 MAX was rolled out in 2017 and is Boeing’s top-selling jet.

The jet was grounded globally in the spring of 2019 after the October 29, 2018 crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX in Indonesia that killed 189 was soon followed by the March 10, 2019, crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX that killed 157.

The back-to-back disasters sparked federal investigations not only into Boeing, but into failures in FAA oversight and certification.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Stephen Dickson signed an order Wednesday rescinding the grounding. U.S. airlines will be able to fly the Max once Boeing updates critical software and computers on each plane and pilots receive training in flight simulators.  

Dickson, who took over in August 2019, said he felt ‘100% confident’ in the 737 MAX.

Wreckage of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX crash from March  2019. The disaster, coupled with the crash of a Lion Air 737 Max months earlier, led  aviation agencies worldwide to ground the jet for 20 months

Wreckage of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX crash from March  2019. The disaster, coupled with the crash of a Lion Air 737 Max months earlier, led  aviation agencies worldwide to ground the jet for 20 months

Pilot training and software upgrades will focus on an system intended to prevent the 737 MAX from pitching upward during flight. In both disasters, the system shoving down the jet's nose as pilots struggled to regain control

Pilot training and software upgrades will focus on an system intended to prevent the 737 MAX from pitching upward during flight. In both disasters, the system shoving down the jet’s nose as pilots struggled to regain control

‘We’ve done everything humanly possible to make sure’ these types of crashes do not happen again, Dickson told Reuters, adding that design changes to the jet ‘have eliminated what caused these particular accidents.’

American is the only U.S. airline to put the Max back in its schedule so far, starting with one round trip daily between New York and Miami from December 29. 

New pilot training and software upgrades will focus on the plane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which is intended to counter a tendency for the nose of the 737 MAX to rise up.

In both disasters, the software pushed the nose down repeatedly on both planes that crashed, overcoming the pilots’ struggles to regain control. 

In each case, a single faulty sensor triggered the nose-down pitch. 

When the 737 MAX does return to the skies, Boeing will be running a 24-hour war room to monitor flights, Reuters reported.

On CNBC Wednesday, Dickson said the design and pilot training changes required by the FAA ‘makes it impossible for the airplanes to have the same kind of accident that unfortunately killed 346 people’. 

The agency also plans in-person inspections of hundreds of jets built during the ban, slowing their distribution by months, if not years.

Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are seen parked at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington, in November

Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are seen parked at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington, in November

When the 737 MAX does return to the skies, Boeing will be running a 24-hour war room to monitor flights. The agency also plans in-person inspections of hundreds of jets built during the ban, slowing their distribution by months, if not years

When the 737 MAX does return to the skies, Boeing will be running a 24-hour war room to monitor flights. The agency also plans in-person inspections of hundreds of jets built during the ban, slowing their distribution by months, if not years

‘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 CEO David Calhoun said in a statement.

Boeing Max 737’s two deadly crashes: What happened?

Boeing was forced to ground the 737 Max after the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia happened less than six months apart.

The first disaster happened October 29, 2018, when a Max flying as Lion Air flight JT 610 fell into the Java Sea 15 minutes after taking off from Jakarta.

All 189 aboard the plane died, including 180 Indonesians, one Italian and one Indian.

The second crash occurred on March 10, 2019, when Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302, which also was a Max jet, took off from Bole International Airport in the Ethiopian capital and crashed. All 157 people onboard the plane died. 

US carriers American, United and Southwest had to cancel flights for the holidays, including over Christmas and into the new year, after the plane was grounded around the world.  

Boeing reported July 14 that customers canceled orders for 60 of the grounded 737 MAX jets in June. The aircraft maker removed another 123 planes from its backlog over doubts that the deals will be completed.

‘We have implemented a series of meaningful changes to strengthen the safety practices and culture of our company,’ he shared with employees in a letter.

Boeing’s tarnished reputation, coupled with the ongoing pandemic, led many buyers to cancel their orders of the 737 MAX.

At one point during the grounding, there were so many unclaimed planes that the jets were just parked in an employee parking lot at a Boeing factory in Washington state, next to workers’ sedans and minivans. 

American Airlines said it will resume using the 737 MAX in December, with United following in the first quarter of 2021 and Southwest Airlines in the second quarter.

The EU gave the thumbs up to the 737 MAX in October, but Boeing must still receive approval from regulators in Brazil, China, and elsewhere.

Dickson said he expects international officials will ‘complete their work within a relatively short period of time.’

Shares in both Boeing and major U.S. airlines went up on Wednesday, in anticipation of the announcement – shares rose 3.5% to $217.38 in early trading

Loved ones of passengers on both crashes, some of whom are suing Boeing, have criticized the decision to resume using the 737 MAX.

In a letter, families of those killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash said they felt ‘the FAA is more concerned with saving Boeing’s investment in the 737 MAX than it is on ensuring that the airplane is safe.’ 

The flying public should avoid the Max,’ said Michael Stumo, whose 24-year-old daughter died in the second crash. 

‘Change your flight. This is still a more dangerous aircraft than other modern planes.’

Boeing’s reputation has taken a beating since the crashes. Its then-CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, initially suggested that the foreign pilots were to blame. 

However, congressional investigators discovered an FAA analysis – conducted after the first Max crash – that predicted there would be 15 more crashes during the plane’s life span if the flight-control software were not fixed. 

Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft parked at Boeing Field in Seattle. American Airlines said it will resume using the jets in December, with United following in the first quarter of 2021

Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft parked at Boeing Field in Seattle. American Airlines said it will resume using the jets in December, with United following in the first quarter of 2021

Relatives at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 on board. Loved ones of passengers on both crashes, some of whom are suing Boeing, have criticized the decision to resume using the 737 MAX

Relatives at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 on board. Loved ones of passengers on both crashes, some of whom are suing Boeing, have criticized the decision to resume using the 737 MAX 

After an 18-month investigation, the House Transportation Committee heaped blame on Boeing, which was under pressure to develop the Max to compete with a plane from European rival Airbus, and the FAA, which certified the Max and was the last agency in the world to ground it after the crashes. The investigators said Boeing suffered from a ‘culture of concealment,’ and pressured engineers to rush the plane to the market.

Boeing was repeatedly wrong about how quickly it could fix the plane. When those predictions continued to be wrong, and Boeing was perceived as putting undue pressure on the FAA, Muilenburg was fired in December 2019.

Dickson – a former Air Force and Delta Air Lines pilot – flew the plane personally before it was cleared. 

A monument for the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 Boeing 737 MAX plane crash is seen during a memorial ceremony at the French Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A monument for the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 Boeing 737 MAX plane crash is seen during a memorial ceremony at the French Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 

Europe’s aviation regulator, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, said it will take public comment on plans to clear the Max for flight and expects to finalize a plan by early next year. Some EU states will have to lift their own grounding notices as well. Regulators in Canada and China are still doing their own reviews.

Relatives say it’s too soon, and they and their lawyers say Boeing and the FAA are withholding documents. Anton Sahadi, who lives in Jakarta, Indonesia, and lost two brothers in the Lion Air crash, said it’s too early for the Max to fly again.

‘The cases from the incidents are not 100% finished yet,’ he said. ‘I think all the victims’ family in Indonesia and Ethiopia will feel the same, so regretful, why it can fly again because we are still in the recovery process for our problems because of the incidents.’

Naoise Ryan, an Irish citizen whose husband died in the Ethiopian crash, said the Max is ‘the same airplane that crashed not once but twice because safety was not a priority for this company.

BOEING’S 737 MAX: WHAT WENT WRONG

OCT. 29, 2018 – A Lion Air 737 MAX plane crashes in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board

NOV. 13, 2018 – FAA, Boeing say they are evaluating the need for software or design changes to 737 MAX jets following the Lion Air crash

NOV. 30, 2018 – Boeing is weighing plans to launch a software upgrade for its 737 MAX in six to eight weeks that would help address a scenario faced by crew of Indonesia’s Lion Air, sources told Reuters

MARCH 10, 2019 – An Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashes, killing all 157 people on board

MARCH 12, 2019 – FAA says will mandate that Boeing implement design changes on the 737 MAX by April that have been in the works for months

MARCH 13, 2019 – FAA joins other major global regulators in grounding the 737 MAX, citing evidence of similarities between the two fatal crashes

APRIL 6, 2019 – Boeing says it will cut monthly 737 MAX production by nearly 20%; U.S. and airline officials say they believe the plane could be grounded for at least two months

MAY 16, 2019 – Boeing says it has completed a software update for its 737 MAX jets and is in the process of submitting a pilot training plan to the FAA

JUNE 27, 2019 – Boeing says it will take until at least September to fix a newly identified problem with software that emerged when FAA test pilots were reviewing potential failure scenarios of the flight control computer in a 737 MAX simulator

JULY 18, 2019 – Boeing says it has assumed regulatory approval of the 737 MAX’s return to service in the United States and other jurisdictions will begin early in the fourth quarter

OCT. 24, 2019 – Boeing says it still expects FAA approval to fly the 737 MAX in the fourth quarter, sending its shares higher despite a slump in quarterly profit. FAA says it will need “several weeks” for review

NOV. 7, 2019 – U.S. and European regulators ask Boeing to revise documentation on its proposed 737 MAX software fix

NOV. 11, 2019 – Boeing says it expects the FAA to issue an order approving the plane’s return to flight in December, forecasting commercial flights to resume in January

NOV. 15, 2019 – The head of the FAA tells his team to ‘take whatever time is needed’ in their review of the 737 MAX

DEC. 11, 2019 – FAA chief Steve Dickson says 737 MAX will not be cleared to fly before the end of 2019

DEC. 12, 2019 – Boeing abandons its goal of winning regulatory approval for the 737 MAX to resume flying in December after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the plane would not be cleared to fly before 2020

DEC. 23, 2019 – Boeing fires CEO Dennis Muilenburg

JAN. 6, 2020 – An audit conducted in December reveals that wiring in the tail of the 737 MAX could short circuit and lead to a crash if pilots don’t know how to respond correctly

JAN. 9, 2020 – Boeing releases hundreds of internal messages between employees to the Congress and the FAA last week, raising serious questions about its development of simulators and showing employees may have covered up issues

JAN. 13, 2020 – Budget airliner Ryanair reveals it could receive its first deliveries of up to 10 grounded 737 MAX aircraft from Boeing by April, but cautions this will depend on the regulators

JAN. 16, 2020 – Committee, appointed by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in April, finds the FAA safety approval process was not at fault

JAN. 21, 2020 –  Boeing announces it does not expect federal regulators to approve its changes to the grounded 737 Max until this summer, several months longer than the company was saying just a few weeks ago.

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