WASHINGTON — After nearly two years and two deadly crashes, the Federal Aviation Administration has cleared the Boeing 737 MAX for flight.
In two crashes involving the jet, 346 people died after a stall-prevention system pushed down the nose of the plane.
Regulators around the world grounded the MAX in March 2019, after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet killed 157 people. That happened less than five months after another MAX flown by Indonesia’s Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea, resulting in 189 deaths.
Congressional hearings were held that criticized the FAA for lack of oversight and for Boeing’s rush to complete the software for the plane.
More than 400 Max planes were flying when they were all grounded. The company has since built another 450 aircraft.
“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” said David Calhoun, chief executive officer of The Boeing Company. “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 return to service order requires pilots to train on a simulator and for all of the planes to undergo maintenance and modifications before they can be used again.
So far, American Airlines is the only U.S. airline to reinitiate MAX flights on one round-trip route between New York and Miami. The flight begins on Dec. 29
Alaska Airlines said it will take delivery of its first MAX plane in January, and expects to put it into service in March after testing and pilot training.
The airline released a video with pilots expressing confidence in the MAX.
At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, KIRO 7 asked passengers if they would be comfortable flying the MAX.
“I would have concerns getting on a MAX, I don’t know that means I wouldn’t but I would be thinking about it for sure,” said David Horn of Tacoma.
“I’d fly it,” said Michael McCormick, who lives in Bothell. “I think it’s probably the most scrutinized plane for safety now.”
Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Everett) represents a district with many Boeing workers and helped lead a Congressional investigation into failures with certifying the MAX.
“At my first opportunity I’m going to fly the MAX,” Larsen told KIRO 7.
Larsen said the FAA’s recertification process was very different than the original approval, and he points to the review by a technical advisory board.
“Because of that third party oversight I feel much more confident,” Larsen said.
Pilot and aviation expert John Nance has long defended the MAX.
“There was nothing wrong with this aircraft, aerodynamically or any other way, that couldn’t have been solved by having the same level of pilot training for the world that we do in the United States,” Nance said.
Family members of the 346 people who died in two crashes remain skeptical.
“Passengers should look to fly on a different plane,” said Michael Stumo, whose daughter, Samya, died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. “There is not yet enough redundancy and modernization of the systems to guard against a third crash.”
Read the return to service order here.
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