Boeing’s 737 MAX has been cleared by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to fly again, 20 months after the fleet was grounded following the March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crash, which left 157 people dead. That accident came on the back of a similar Lion Air jet crash in Indonesia in October 2018 that killed 189 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 released Wednesday. “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.”
A problem with an automated flight software known as MCAS, which caused the planes to nosedive moments after take-off, was reported to be partly to blame for the disasters. Boeing in July last year announced that it was working with regulators to roll out a software upgrade.
This September, an investigative report from the House of Representatives said the plane manufacturer and the FAA were responsible for “repeated and serious failures.” It said the crashes “were the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA — the pernicious result of regulatory capture on the part of the FAA with respect to its responsibilities to perform robust oversight of Boeing and to ensure the safety of the flying public.”
Boeing responded to the report’s release, saying that it is “dedicated to doing the work” necessary. Sky News reports that the MCAS, which is said to be responsible for both crashes, was the main point for design changes that were demanded by the FAA. This led to extensive testing both on the ground and in the air, it said.
“FAA Administrator Steve Dickson today signed an order that paves the way for the Boeing 737 MAX to return to commercial service,” the FAA said in the statement released on Wednesday. It added that before the planes can fly, several steps such as approving pilot training program revisions and maintenance works on the grounded planes would be undertaken.
Currently, the U.S. is the first to take the decision to return to the skies. Aviation officials in Europe are yet to make a decision. American Airlines will start a single Max passenger flight from December 29 to January 4 between Miami and New York while United Airlines and Southwest are planning to begin flying the Max early next year, NBC News reported.
Boeing, which has lost more than than $20 billion following the crisis, is also facing a series of lawsuits from families of victims. It also has to work on building its reputation amid an industry that has been hit by the pandemic.