The US aviation regulator has signed an order that paves the way for the return of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft to return to commercial flying.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says a 20-month safety review process has addressed the aircraft’s safety issues that that played a role in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes which cost 346 lives.
It rescinded the order that grounded the aircraft and published an Airworthiness Directive specifying design changes that must be made before the aircraft returns to service, issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC), and published the MAX training requirements.
Before the fatal crashed the aircraft was the best-selling for Boeing, which has cut 30,000 jobs as a result of the grounding and Covid-19 combined.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, who signed the order today, took the recommended pilot training and flew the 737 Max.
“These actions do not allow the Max to return immediately to the skies,” the FAA said. “Throughout our transparent process, we cooperated closely with our foreign counterparts on every aspect of the return to service.”
The FAA must approve 737 Max pilot training program revisions for each US airline operating the Max and will retain its authority to issue airworthiness certificates and export certificates of airworthiness for all new 737 Max aircraft manufactured since the grounding order was issued.
Airlines that have parked their Max aircraft must take required maintenance steps to prepare them to fly again.
The FAA added: “The design and certification of this aircraft included an unprecedented level of collaborative and independent reviews by aviation authorities around the world. 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.
“Following the return to service, the FAA will continue to work closely with our foreign civil aviation partners to evaluate any potential additional enhancements for the aircraft. The agency also will conduct the same rigorous, continued operational safety oversight of the Max that we provide for the entire US commercial fleet.”
“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” said David Calhoun, chief executive officer of The Boeing Company. “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.”
“The FAA’s directive is an important milestone,” added Stan Deal, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide.”
Which? travel editor Rory Boland said the approval in the US was “the first step to the Boeing 737 Max returning to service worldwide” but believes “many passengers may still be uncomfortable taking flights on these planes given their past record”.
He suggested: “Airlines that plan on flying these aircraft should give passengers with existing bookings the option of transferring to another flight for free, while operators should also make clear which planes will be used for future bookings, so people can make an informed choice before travelling.”