FAA clears Boeing 737 Max to fly again after 20-month grounding spurred by deadly crashes

CNBC:

  • The planes have been grounded since March 2019 after two crashes killed 346 people.
  • The crashes sparked harsh criticism of Boeing from lawmakers and safety experts over the planes’ design and the company’s internal culture.
  • Lawmakers are advancing bills to strengthen FAA oversight of new aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday cleared the Boeing’s 737 Max to fly again after a nearly two-year ban, a turning point in a protracted crisis for the aircraft giant stemming from two crashes of its top-selling plane that killed 346 people.

“The design and certification of this aircraft included an unprecedented level of collaborative and independent reviews by aviation authorities around the world,” the FAA said in a statement. “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.”

Boeing shares were up 6% in premarket trading after the FAA ungrounded the jets.

The end of the 20-month flight ban gives Boeing the chance to start handing over the roughly 450 Max jetliners it has produced but has been unable to deliver to customers after regulators ordered airlines to stop flying them in March 2019.

Boeing has a backlog of more than 3,000 other Boeing 737 Max planes, a number that has declined as the lengthy grounding coupled with the coronavirus pandemic prompted customers to call off hundreds of orders.

Regulators grounded the Max in March 2019 after the second of two nearly new 737 Max planes crashed within five months of one another. The crashes prompted a lengthy safety review that was met with numerous delays, driving up losses and costs for Boeing.

For months after the crashes, Boeing and the FAA faced criticism from lawmakers and some air safety experts about the plane’s design and certification. Tensions over the grounding between Boeing and the FAA cost the former CEO his job. U.S. lawmakers are now advancing legislation that would strengthen the FAA’s oversight of new aircraft after it was criticized for being too lax on the new aircraft.

Investigations into the crashes and the Max’s development centered around an automated flight control system that was meant to prevent the aircraft from stalling. Pilots on both flights that crashed — Lion Air Flight 610 on Oct. 29, 2018, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019 — struggled against the system after it was activated because of faulty sensor data.

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