US regulators have approved Boeing’s 737 Max to fly once more, 20 months after the manufacturer’s bestselling plane was grounded following two fatal crashes caused by design flaws.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rescinded an order that had grounded the aircraft, in a move that could allow the planes to fly again before the end of the year.
Tthe regulator still must approve new training programmes for pilots before the 737 Max will be able to fly again. Airlines will also have to install software updates as well as engineering changes and maintenance checks for the aircraft.
However, the confirmation from the FAA that it deems the plane safe is the key step towards allowing the planes back in the air. The European Aviation Safety Agency, the other key regulator in global aviation, has also indicated that it is likely to give approval to the plane soon. While other countries have the power to block planes from flying in their airspace, in practice they take their lead from the US and EU.
In a video accompanying Wednesday’s announcement, Steve Dickson, the head of the FAA, said: “I can tell you now that I am 100% comfortable with my family flying on it.”
The US grounded the 737 Max in March 2019 after two planes crashed because of faulty sensors and a design flaw that repeatedly pushed down the nose of the aircraft. In total, 346 people died onboard Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019.
The grounding of its previously bestselling aeroplane has cost Boeing more than $20bn (£15bn) in direct costs, putting it in a weaker position than its European rival, Airbus, when the coronavirus pandemic caused the global aviation industry to essentially shut down.
The twin crises have pushed Boeing to cut 30,000 jobs in an effort to stem its cash outflows as orders dried up. The cuts will leave compnay with 130,000 workers.
The crashes and subsequent grounding of the 737 Max forced the resignation of Dennis Muilenberg as chief executive and placed intense scrutiny on the regulation of the FAA. Dickson personally flew test flights of the new plane, highlighting the pressure on the regulator after a report by the US Congress found the FAA’s oversight of Boeing had failed.
“The path that led to this point was long and gruelling but we said from the start that we would take the time necessary to get this right,” Dickson said. “We were never driven by a timeline but rather were driven by a methodical and deliberate safety process.”
David Calhoun, Boeing’s chief executive since January, said: “We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations.
“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.”
New rules and a design upgrade “address the unsafe condition”, the FAA said in its new order.
The plane has gone through unprecedented scrutiny from regulators around the world, it added.