Boeing Max cleared for takeoff, two years after deadly crashes

Cornelia Mascio
Novembre 19, 2020

U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dickson is "100% confident" in the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX but says the airplane maker has more to do as it works to improve its safety culture.

In the wake of two fatal crashes involving MAX planes, these aircraft were grounded worldwide in 2019. That happened less than five months after another Max flown by Indonesia's Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea. A total of 346 passengers and crew members on both planes were killed.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Stephen Dickson signed an order Wednesday rescinding the grounding.

The order will end the longest grounding in commercial aviation history and paves the way for Boeing to resume US deliveries and commercial flights by the end of the year.

The U.S. move follows congressional hearings on the crashes.

Investigators focused on anti-stall software that Boeing had devised to counter the plane's tendency to tilt nose-up because of the size and placement of the engines. In each case, a single faulty sensor triggered the nose-down pitch.

The new software now requires inputs from two sensors in order to activate the software. Boeing says the new software does not override, or ignore, the pilot's controls like it did in the past. The company also must add new display systems for pilots and change wiring inside the plane. "The design changes that are being put in place completely eliminate the possibility of an accident occurring that is similar to the two accidents".

Even after the Max is cleared to fly in Canada, Boeing will have work to do to convince the public that the plane is safe, Gradek said.

Boeing shares (BA) were down 2.3% at $205.27 late on Wednesday afternoon. Dickson said the FAA is still reviewing Boeing's actions in the MAX and could take additional enforcement actions.

The decision on the 737 Max comes in the middle of a health crisis that has frightened away passengers and hurt the aviation industry. Air travel in the United States alone is down about 65 percent from a year ago. It plans in-person inspections that could take a year or more to complete, prolonging the jets' delivery. Each plane has a sticker price of $99 million to $135 million, although airlines routinely pay less.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor John Hansman teaches classes on the science of flight. But the Max case is unusual, and were it not for the novel coronavirus, Hansman said he would feel safe flying on a Max.

"The whole thing has had more scrutiny than any airplane in the world", he said.

American is the only USA airline to put the Max in its schedule so far, starting with one round trip daily between NY and Miami beginning December 29. United expects to start using the plane early next year, while Southwest said its Max jets won't fly before the second quarter of 2021. That's usually on an airline's website, although passengers have to know where to click. Almost 400 Max jets were in service worldwide when they were grounded. All have to undergo maintenance before they can fly.

Pilots must also undergo simulator training, which was not required when the aircraft was introduced. But relatives of crash victims denounced the move.

"The flying public should avoid the Max", said Michael Stumo, whose 24-year-old daughter died in the second crash.

Boeing still faces legal action from families of crash victims.

Dickson acknowledged there was fragmented communication within the FAA and between the FAA and Boeing during the 737 MAX certification.

In March, the airline said it would cancel an order for 11 Max jets following the grounding order and ongoing questions about the aircraft's safety. Agencies in Europe, Brazil, Canada and China are likely to announce their own approvals separately after independent investigations.

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