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FAA Green Lights Boeing 737 MAX
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday announced the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft could once again fly in the U.S., reversing a decision made almost two years ago after two of the aircraft were involved in fatal crashes in Africa and Southeast Asia.
While the day’s announcement represents a key victory for Boeing in the fight to get the MAX back in the skies, it is one of many Boeing will need to get the aircraft flying again worldwide. Europe, however, has already signed off on the end of the flight moratorium, with the continent’s central regulator saying last month that the MAX could again operate commercial flights by the end of the year.
“The FAA’s directive is an important milestone,” Stan Deal, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a statement. “We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide.”
The announcement, however, does come with important caveats. The FAA, in conjunction with peer organizations in Europe, Canada and elsewhere, has said airlines will need to implement further pilot training protocols to ensure operators are sufficiently familiar with the aircraft’s new flight control systems, which played a part in the two crashes.
“The path that led us to this point was long and grueling, but we said from the start that we would take the time necessary to get this right,” FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson said in a statement. “I am 100% comfortable with my family flying on it.”
Problems Still Linger
While regulators have now given the official sign-off for the 737 MAX to fly passengers once again, airlines may face a much larger challenge getting the traveling public comfortable flying again. After the aircraft was involved in two fatal accidents in a span of six months — a Lion Air crash that killed 189 and an Ethiopian Airlines disaster that killed 157 — consumers confidence in the MAX plummeted as it became clear software issues with a new system were at least partially to blame for the accidents.
Airlines have already begun the work of ensuring customers the MAX will be safe to fly. American Airlines, for example, is planning open tours of its MAX aircraft to allow customers and press the opportunity to talk with airline officials about the safety of the aircraft in the hands of its pilots.
These tours will come as the airline nears its planned first flight with the MAX, a late December flight between LaGuardia Airport and Miami International Airport. American is currently slated to become the first airline in the U.S. to re-launch the plane.
Southwest Airlines has also said it would allow customers booked on the 737 MAX to change their flight for free, allowing those uncomfortable to search for alternatives aboard its other 737NG aircraft. The airline, however, has been eagerly awaiting the MAX’s return to service, as its greater dependence on the aircraft in its current fleet and future order book has afforded it much less flexibility in its scheduling, particularly before the pandemic.
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