After 20 months grounded, the Boeing 737 Max will still have to face the Covid-19 pandemic. But Boeing will be able to start turning the page on this first crisis affecting these aircraft, since the United States on Wednesday authorized the plane to fly again, following two accidents that claimed the lives of 346 people.
Several modifications will have to be made to the planes before they can be returned to service, stressed the United States Aviation Agency (FAA) in announcing the green light. Pilots will have to undergo new training.
“The road to this decision has been long and grueling,” insisted FAA Director Steve Dickson, who himself flew the plane on a test flight in September, in an accompanying video. her decision. “But we said from the start that we would take the time we needed to get it right. “
American Airlines flights scheduled for late December
The grounding of the 737 MAX was the longest in aviation history. In addition to the requested changes, airlines will perform maintenance work on aircraft stationed on airport tarmacs since March 2019.
The 450 aircraft stored at Boeing will be examined by an FAA inspector before being shipped to customers. However, American Airlines has already scheduled flights at the end of December between Miami and New York. Southwest, the company operating the most 737 MAXs in the world, will not reuse any until the second quarter of 2021. The 737 MAX, which was Boeing’s sales engine before its setbacks, will not immediately return to the sky Global: Civil aviation authorities in other countries have decided to carry out their own certification.
A green light expected in Europe in early 2021
The Canadian agency said on Wednesday that it should “very soon” complete its validation process, while the European regulator should officially give its green light at the end of 2020 or early 2021. Steve Dickson assured during a conference call that ‘there was “very little gap” between American, European, Canadian and Brazilian regulators.
The American decision is an “important step”, reacted Boeing in a press release. “These events and the lessons we learned from them reshaped our business and focused more on our core values of safety, quality and integrity,” said CEO David Calhoun.
Both Boeing and the FAA have been the subject of much criticism after the accidents, with the manufacturer accused of sacrificing safety on the altar of profit.
“Saying trust us is not enough”
“We were told the plane was safe when it was certified in March 2017 and again after the Lion Air crash in October 2018. Saying Trust us is no longer enough, ”said the law firm Clifford Law, which represents several families of the victims who filed a complaint against Boeing.
The FAA director has previously warned that it was “inevitable” that a 737 MAX would at some point have to return to the airport mid-flight, due to a mechanical problem or suspected problem. But this is regularly the case on all aircraft models, he insisted. Boeing has set up an operations center that will monitor all flights in real time.
The 737 MAX will be back in an area hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, with financially struggling airlines and sluggish traffic. The Seattle manufacturer will nevertheless be able to resume deliveries, which will allow it to be paid and to replenish its coffers.
A $ 20 billion crisis
The main modification to be made on the planes will be the MCAS flight control software, which the pilots of the flights of Lion Air, on October 29, 2018, and Ethiopian Airlines, on March 10, 2019, have failed to master. Other software must also be changed, as does the repositioning of some cables.
The crisis has been deep for Boeing, with in particular the dismissal of its ex-boss, Dennis Muilenburg, at the end of 2019. It has so far cost the manufacturer around $ 20 billion, between the additional production costs and the compensation offered to Airlines companies.
To this must be added the loss of income linked to maintenance for nearly two years, the deterioration of the group’s image and the sums that the manufacturer will pay to the families of the victims. The FAA’s move was hailed by the markets, with the stock surging 2% on Wall Street.