The Federal Aviation Administration has rescinded its grounding order for Boeing’s 737 Max jet, allowing the aircraft to return to the skies after certain modifications are made.
The decision follows a 20-month review after crashes in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 passengers.
“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 Steve Dickson said Wednesday. We were never driven by a timeline but rather followed a methodical and deliberate safety process … that only took 20 months to complete.”
The FAA employees who were involved in that process “diligently worked on the fixes that were necessary to address the known safety issues that played a role in the tragic loss of 346 lives.”
The plane was grounded after two models, the Max 8 and Max 9, were involved in two deadly 2019 crashes in Ethiopia and over the Java Sea.
Dickinson added later that he flew the Boeing 737 MAX himself “for about two hours” to evaluate its functionality.
“I am 100% comfortable with my family flying on it,” he said.
In addition to rescinding the grounding order, the FAA also published the final airworthiness directive, alerted the international community of the decision and published Max training requirements for U.S. operators.
Nearly 400 Max jets were in service worldwide when they were grounded, and Boeing has built and stored about 450 more since then. All have to undergo maintenance and get some modifications before they can fly.
Pilots must also undergo simulator training, which was not required when the aircraft was introduced.
“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” Boeing Company CEO David Calhoun said in a Wednesday statement. “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.”
American Airlines operations leadership team sent a letter on Tuesday saying the airline company is “confident in” the Boeing 737 Max jet’s “return to service.”
“We’ve implemented rigorous processes to ensure that every plane in the air is safe and our pilots, flight attendants, team members and customers are confident in the return of the 737 Max. This includes investing in extensive training and plans to fly the aircraft before it returns to commercial use,” the team wrote.
The FAA said the design and certification of the plane included efforts from experts across the world, who indicated that Boeing’s design, crew and procedure changes together make the aircraft safe for flight.
“The FAA’s directive is an important milestone,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Stan Deal 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.”
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 in a rush to get the plane on the market.
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