The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday announced that it had approved the Boeing 737 MAX to fly again, bringing an end to a 20 month grounding that started in March 2019.
The jets won’t start flying right away as the flight software will need to be updated, pilots will need to undergo extra training, and international regulators will have to also approve the jets’ reintroduction (which is expected), but Boeing is hoping the announcement helps turn the page on a saga that included the two fatal crashes that killed 346 people, the resignation of its CEO, and a major criminal investigation.
Some airlines, including Southwest and United, both said on Wednesday that they expect to start flying the MAX jets in the first quarter of 2021.
The approval comes as the travel industry continues to deal with suppressed demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which means that orders for the 737 MAX likely won’t return to pre-crash levels anytime soon. Boeing, which reportedly has 450 of the jets sitting in storage, will also have to help convince consumers to once again fly the jet.
Some airlines, including American Airlines, said they were planning a return to service for the jets by the end of 2020, a return that included consumer tours of the jets at a number of airports, including Dallas/Fort Worth, New York’s LaGuardia Airport, and Miami International.
Airlines and Boeing pulled all of the 737 MAX jets from service following a second fatal crash in March 2019. In both cases, pilots lost control of the jets because of an issue with a sensor in its flight control system, which pushed the nose downward. In total, 346 people were killed in the two crashes.
Boeing then suspended production of the jets in December 2019 after it was unable to get FAA approval. Rumors were sparked earlier this year that Boeing was looking to scrap the “MAX” name as part of a rebranding for the jets—an order from Polish airline Enter Air, the first MAX order since December 2019, didn’t include the “MAX” moniker, but Boeing quickly refuted that.
The full notice from the FAA, signed by Deputy Executive Director of Flight Standards Service Robert C. Carty, can be found here.