Boeing’s 737 Max will get approval to fly passengers once more

The FAA action is just the first step to enable 59 airlines – spread across 32 countries – to re-fly the 387 grounded aircraft as part of their flight schedule. The FAA orders are for US domestic flights only for the 737 Max jets operated by American, United and Southwest Airlines, a total of 72. Flights to or within other countries must be approved by the aviation authorities of these nations.

With regard to the U.S., the FAA noted in its statement that the necessary changes to the 737 Max identified in the approval process must be installed before any of the aircraft can be flown with passengers again, and that the FAA must inspect each aircraft. The pilots must also complete additional training.

This process will likely take a few weeks to a few months, depending on the airline. So far only American Airlines (EEL) added the aircraft to its schedule for a handful of flights between Miami and New York in late December and early January. Other airlines are holding back. southwest (LUV)34 of the jets – more than any other airline – are not expected to fly passengers on the 737 Max by spring 2021. United (UAL) The planes are expected to fly in the first three months of 2021.

Weak demand

What is not yet clear is whether passengers will try to avoid flying a 737 Max once those flights resume. US airlines will no longer charge change fees to passengers who change their travel plans. Airmen who want to cancel a 737 Max flight can do so without penalty.

“If a customer doesn’t want to fly with the 737 Max, he doesn’t have to,” said a letter from American Airline executives to airline employees on Wednesday.

But Travel Fairness Now, a consumer group, said Thursday that passengers should be able to get refunds on their tickets instead of credit if they don’t fly a 737 Max jet and then want to book another flight to the same destination without price difference.

“The circumstances surrounding the Boeing 737 Max are unprecedented in the history of business travel and require exceptional protection for understandably affected consumers,” said Kurt Ebenhoch, Managing Director of Travel Fairness Now.

One thing that could slow the resumption of 737 Max flights is the extraordinary drop in air travel demand due to the combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and the global recession it caused.

According to Ascend by Cirium, a research firm that tracks aircraft usage, there are around 1,500 single-aisle passenger jets worldwide parked by airlines around the world. This number does not include 737 grounded Max jets. Rather, it represents more than 25% of single-aisle aircraft worldwide since the pandemic began.

Even if there is no need to increase the number of planes they fly, airlines want their 737 Max jets to continue to replace older jets in their fleets, as the Max is about 15% more economical than the older planes, Rob said Morris, global director of consulting at Cirium.

“Even if fuel prices are low today … that fuel saving could still be around $ 750 to $ 1,000 per plane per day,” he said. “In today’s environment where airlines want to save as much cash as possible [those savings are] very welcome.”

Family members of victims speak out

Some of the family members of those who died in the accidents have objected to Max’s return to service. They say Boeing made mistakes in its design, the newest version of a long-running aircraft that made its version dangerous, and that the FAA wrongly approved the original version and recertified it for flight.

“The plane is inherently unstable and cannot fly without its software,” said Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samaya Rose Stumo died in March 2019 when an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed. “You haven’t fixed it yet. The flying crowd should avoid the Max in the future. Change your flight.”

Stumo and other family members held a press conference Tuesday before the announcement. Stumo said the FAA should have insisted that a third sensor be added to determine if the plane is in danger of stalling. He said other changes should be made to the way pilots are alerted when there is a problem.

“We as family members want to avoid a third crash,” he said.

The Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents pilots at many U.S. airlines, including United, said that while they continue to evaluate the specific rules for training the crew to return to service are solid and will become an effective component which leads to the safe restart of the 737 Max. “The pilot unions in the Southwest and the US had no immediate comment on the FAA’s action.

The investigation into the repair of the aircraft was originally supposed to be completed in the fall of 2019, but continued when new questions about the aircraft emerged.

FAA and Boeing praise the process

“The road that got us to this point has been long and arduous,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a video statement on Wednesday. “But we said from the start that we would take the time to get this right. We were never driven by a schedule, but followed a methodical and deliberate safety process. During this time, FAA staff worked hard on what was necessary Corrections. “

As part of the verification process, Dickson flew the aircraft himself in September and underwent the training that pilots are required to undergo.

“With all of the activities we have been doing over the past 20 months and my personal experience of flying the plane, I can now tell you that I am 100% comfortable with my family flying on it,” said he.

The FAA has worked with aviation authorities around the world throughout the process, and most are expected to issue their own orders to ground the aircraft as well. However, there may be delays in getting the jet back online around the world. The European Union’s flight safety agency, which oversees flights in Europe, announced on Wednesday that it is expected to take action in late December or early 2021.

And regulator Transport Canada said it expects to complete its review “very soon,” though it added, “There will be differences between what the FAA approved today and what Canada will ask for its operators.”

Boeing also said it was confident the plane could fly safely once all the necessary steps were taken.

“We will never forget the life that was lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to cease operations,” said David Calhoun, CEO of The Boeing Company. “These events and the knowledge gained from them changed our company and continued to focus our attention on our core values ​​of safety, quality and integrity.”

Problems during the inspection

In addition to a software update for the faulty safety system, problems with the safety of the aircraft cabling were identified. There were also questions about the lack of training for pilots switching from the original 737 to the 737 Max, which had been a selling point for the aircraft.The investigation also found that many Boeing employees privately expressed doubts about the aircraft during the original approval process.

“Would you put your family on an airplane with Max simulator training? I wouldn’t,” one staff member wrote to another in an internal communication revealed during the investigation. Another employee described the aircraft as “designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys”. And you just wrote: “Piss bad design.”

– CNN’s Pete Muntean, Gregory Wallace and Hanna Ziady contributed to this report

Correction: Southwest Airlines pilots are represented by the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that they were represented by the Air Line Pilots Association.

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