Boeing 737 Max Is Cleared by F.A.A. to Resume Flights

After 20 months on site, Boeing’s 737 Max will soon be flying again, ending a tragic episode that killed 346 people and caused serious damage to the major US jet manufacturer.

The company received clearance for the aircraft to return to American skies on Wednesday after convincing the Federal Aviation Administration that changes in design, software and crew training would address the shortcomings that led to fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 .

This will not leave Boeing’s problems behind. The company, which had forecast billions in losses due to grounding, has also been crippled by the ruinous blow the coronavirus pandemic has inflicted on global aviation.

Boeing is an icon of industry and the largest exporter in the manufacturing sector in the United States. He is one of the federal government’s largest contractors, a blue chip portfolio and a major employer whose fortunes shape the economy.

Boeing expects 2021 to begin with around 130,000 employees worldwide, a decrease of almost 19 percent from the beginning of this year. The revitalization of the Max business will be an important test of the company’s ability to withstand the pandemic and restore its long-standing stature.

“This is their core plane, so the future rests on Max’s shoulders,” said Vitaly Guzhva, professor of finance at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The Max is the latest addition to Boeing’s 737 line, a single aisle jet used by airlines around the world for flights of a few hours. There are more than 380 Max aircraft in the global fleet, according to Cirium, an aviation data company. Thousands are ordered.

Regulators elsewhere are expected to follow the FAA’s lead, although it may take some time to complete their own reviews. The US agency has been working with its colleagues in Canada, the European Union, and Brazil on revised pilot training requirements.

The Max was founded worldwide in March 2019 when the FAA, together with regulators in dozen other countries, banned the plane after the two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Investigators attributed the crashes to a number of issues, including technical flaws, mismanagement and a lack of regulatory oversight. The main focus was on the software known as MCAS, which was designed to push the aircraft’s nose down in certain situations.

In August, the FAA found a number of Boeing proposals were “effective in mitigating” its safety concerns. Agency chief Stephen Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines pilot, took control on a test flight in September and said he liked what he saw.

“The road that got us to this point was long and arduous, but we said from the start that we would take the time to get this right,” said Dickson in a video message on Wednesday. “I feel 100 percent comfortable when my family flies on it.”

At a press conference Tuesday in anticipation of the FAA’s announcement, relatives of victims of the second crashed plane, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, asked whether Boeing had done enough to allay safety concerns.

“Aviation shouldn’t be a trial-and-error process. It should be about safety, “said Naoise Ryan, whose husband Mick was on board this flight on March 10, 2019.” If safety is not a priority, these companies shouldn’t be in business. “

In a letter to the employees, Boeing’s managing director David Calhoun welcomed the lifting of the ban and promised to consciously resume the return of the aircraft and “never to forget” the victims of the crashes.

“We will honor them by holding the tough lessons of this chapter of our history to ensure that such accidents never happen again,” he said.

Changes ordered by the FAA include updating the MCAS to avoid incorrect activation, updating the display software to warn pilots of conflicts with data from sensors, redirecting some internal cables, and updating the flight manual.

Even in the United States, it can take months for the Max to start carrying passengers again. The FAA must continue to approve pilot training procedures for every U.S. airline operating the Max, planes need to be updated, and airlines suffering from a huge drop in traffic during the pandemic may feel uneasy to act quickly.

American Airlines is expected to be the first US airline to fly the Max. The aircraft is scheduled to operate between December 29 and January 4 for flights between Miami and La Guardia Airport in New York.

United Airlines expects the Max to launch in the first quarter of next year after 1,000 hours of work on each aircraft and “careful technical analysis”. Southwest Airlines did not expect flights to resume in the second quarter.

The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents nearly 60,000 pilots in North America, including those at United and Delta, said they are still considering changes to training procedures, but that the proposed technical fixes “are solid and will be an effective component that leads for safe recommissioning. “

The FAA decision removes some uncertainties as Boeing seeks to restore its reputation, resume fulfilling longstanding contracts for the Max, and weather the sharp business slowdown caused by the pandemic.

The company has lost more than 1,000 orders this year, mostly for the Max, after considering orders that have either been canceled or likely to fail. Aircraft contracts usually allow buyers to cancel or renegotiate terms if deliveries are delayed, adding to the urgency for Boeing to resume delivery of the aircraft. Still, the company has more than 4,200 orders on hand, most of them for the Max.

Boeing had taken a phased approach to the 737 for decades, choosing to update the aircraft rather than designing a new model. This strategy had benefits, including reducing the need for retraining for pilots. But it also resulted in a patchwork design that sometimes required workarounds. By placing larger, more efficient engines, the Max would tip up on certain maneuvers. MCAS – for maneuvering features – augmentation system – was programmed to counter this.

In both crashes, faulty sensors activated the software and sent the planes towards the ground while the pilots tried to pull them up again. In a September report, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Democrats said internal Boeing documents showed employee concerns about MCAS had been dismissed or inadequately addressed. In that report, and a report from the Inspector General of Transportation, Boeing was accused of misleading the FAA by downplaying the complexity of MCAS in order to avoid potentially costly pilot training.

The House Committee also criticized the agency’s practice of outsourcing some certification functions to employees of the companies it oversees.

On Tuesday, the House passed a bipartisan bill aimed at changing FAA certification procedures and requiring a panel of experts to review Boeing’s safety culture. The Air Line Pilots Association welcomed the legislation, saying it included much-needed changes to the certification process. The authors of a similar bill passed Wednesday by the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transport said they would work with leaders from both houses to put a version of the reform laws into effect.

Boeing is nearing the end of a terrible year. In addition to the Max Crisis and the pandemic, quality concerns have slowed delivery of the Greater 787 Dreamliner.

Nevertheless, several factors speak in favor of Boeing. Orders for the Max can be difficult to cancel; Some airlines like Southwest rely solely on Boeing aircraft, which makes it difficult to switch to the other major manufacturer, Airbus. and the Max offers maintenance and fuel savings that may be difficult for some to miss, especially as corporate customers are pressuring airlines to reduce their carbon footprint.

Boeing’s shares are up more than 40 percent this month. Investors have been encouraged by the news from Pfizer and Moderna that coronavirus vaccines under development are proving extremely effective.

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