WASHINGTON: The US Federal Aviation Administration today, November 18, issued an order that paves the way for the Boeing 737 MAX to return to commercial service.
The plane, the best-selling jet in Boeing’s fleet, was grounded in March 2019 after two fatal crashes that killed 346 people. It was discovered that a safety feature meant to stop the plane from climbing too fast and stalling had improperly forced the nose of the plane down, causing the crashes.
The FAA action is only the first step in allowing 59 airlines which own the 387 grounded planes to fly them as part of their schedule. The FAA said in a statement before any of the planes can be flown with passengers again, the necessary changes to the 737 Max identified in the approval process must be installed, the FAA must inspect the individual planes. The pilots must also complete additional training.
The order by administrator Steve Dickson followed a comprehensive and methodical safety review process that took 20 months to complete, said the statement. During that time, FAA employees worked diligently to identify and address the safety issues that played a role in the tragic loss of 346 lives aboard Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, it said.
“Throughout our transparent process, we cooperated closely with our foreign counterparts on every aspect of the return to service. Additionally, Administrator Dickson personally took the recommended pilot training and piloted the Boeing 737 MAX, so he could experience the handling of the aircraft firsthand,” it said.
In addition to rescinding the order that grounded the aircraft, the FAA today 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. These actions do not allow the MAX to return immediately to the skies.
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 FAA issued the grounding order. Furthermore, airlines that have parked their MAX aircraft must take required maintenance steps to prepare them to fly again.
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,” it said.
The process of approving the plane to carry passengers has stretched on far longer than originally expected and cost Boeing more than $20 billion, according to the company. Lost orders for the jet during that time could make it among the most expensive mistakes ever made by a company.
Reacting to the decison, David Calhoun, Chief Executive Officer of The Boeing Company, 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.”
“The FAA’s directive is an important milestone,” said 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.”