U.S. regulators on Wednesday cleared the Boeing 737 MAX to return to the sky and ended its 20-month grounding after two deadly crashes that plunged the company into crisis.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the approval followed “an unmatched level of cooperative and independent reviews by aviation authorities around the world.”
In a video that followed the announcement, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said he was “100 percent comfortable” getting his family to fly the jet. Dickson tested test flights during the approval process.
The plane was grounded after two accidents that killed a total of 346 people in 2018 and 2019. Both Boeing and the FAA have been shot in the wake of the crisis, and critics say Boeing sacrificed safety for profit and that the FAA was too appreciative of the private giant.
A major cause of the two crashes was identified as a faulty safety system that would prevent the plane from stopping when it took off but instead forced the planet’s nose down.
Boeing applauded the FAA’s actions as an “important milestone” in the company’s journey to restore its reputation and safely restore the jet to service.
“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” said Boeing CEO David Calhoun.
“These events and the lessons we have learned as a result have reshaped our business and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity,” Calhoun added.
The FAA’s announcement removed shares in Boeing, which replaced its CEO and several other top executives in the wake of the crisis. Boeing has also been hit by a decline in commercial air travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But family members who lost loved ones in the crashes blew up the decision, according to a statement from Clifford Law Offices, which represents the families in disputes.
“The FAA’s aggressive secret means we can not believe that the Boeing 737 MAX is safe,” said Michael Stumo, whose daughter died in an Ethiopian Airlines crash of the plane in March 2019.
“We were told that the plane was safe when it was certified in March 2017 and again after the Lion Air crash in October 2018.” Just trust us “no longer works.” It was the first of two accidents off the coast of Indonesia.
FAA: ‘restore’ the Boeing relationship
To obtain federal approval, Boeing made changes to the Augmentation System (MCAS), the anti-stall system that was incorrectly activated on Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights.
Dickson said in an interview with CNBC that the changes to the beam “make it impossible for the aircraft to have the same type of accidents.”
Dickson also insisted that the FAA had “restored” its relationship with Boeing and that agency employees who in the future challenge Boeing will receive support from higher up to the regulator.
For Boeing, the FAA’s announcement creates a way to start delivering about 450 MAX planes that have already been built but have been stored throughout the crisis.
Air deliveries are linked to the company’s revenue. Boeing has reported losses over the past four quarters and the MAX crisis has cost the company about $ 20 billion in production costs and compensation to airlines.
American Airlines has said that it plans to start service on MAX at the end of December for traffic between New York and Miami.
The FAA must still approve pilot training protocols for individual airlines before MAX can return to service.
In addition, international regulators must log out of the MAX before it can fly outside the United States.
Transport Canada said it was working “extensively” with the FAA, but that it would require additional steps for pilot training and pre-flight procedures beyond what the US agency mandated for the US sky.
“We expect this process to be completed very soon,” the Canadian agency said.
“The commercial flight restrictions for the operation of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in Canadian airspace remain in force and will not be lifted until the Department is fully convinced that all its safety concerns have been addressed.”
Boeing is also still facing a number of investigations and lawsuits in connection with the crashes.
A report released in September from a House panel called the crashes “the terrible culmination of a series of erroneous technical assumptions from Boeing engineers, lack of transparency from Boeing’s management and grossly inadequate FAA oversight.”
Shares of Boeing soared early on Wednesday, rising 5.3 percent to $ 221.28 at the start of trading.