The biggest airline in the US intends to resume flights with the Boeing 737 MAX in the near future.
American Airlines is the first domestic carrier to resume flights on a Boeing 737 Max after the plane was taken out of service more than a year ago.
CNBC reports that the plane’s return to active service begins with Flight 71 , travelling back and forth from Miami to New York. This will be the first time since March 2019 that the 737 Max will operate commercially in the US after it was shut down after two fatal crashes. However, it has already operated in other countries, including Brazil’s Gola, which resumed flights on 9 December.
The Boeing 737 Max was an updated version of the 737, a mainstay for short and medium-range routes around the world. The aerospace giant needed to update its equipment to better compete with Airbus’s A320, which led to a redesign of the existing 737 body. Boeing said it needed so little adaptation time that pilots did not need to spend time in the simulator, making it very advantageous for airlines looking to save on training costs. But the aircraft’s new, more powerful engines risked causing a stall in the air, which Boeing did not mention.
Instead, it built a software system – the Manoeuvring Performance Improvement System (MCAS) – that automatically actuated to avoid these disruptions. However, the MCAS failed, leading to two fatal crashes: Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302.
A subsequent investigation revealed that Boeing staff had raised serious concerns about the design and operation of the system. And the FAA added that it had failed in its initial certification of the aircraft as safe.
After the crashes, the 737 Max was halted and Boeing spent the next 18 months fixing the problems. This process revealed a number of additional bugs in the system that needed its own time to fix, delaying its return. The FAA recertified the aircraft in November (regulators in Europe did the same in October) and American promptly flew a test flight – with the press on board – in early December. The airline has confirmed that passengers who don’t want to fly the 737 Max will be offered “flexible rebooking”.
A number of other airlines expect to return the 737 Max to the skies by 2021, with United Airlines planning to resume service in February. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines says it will resume at some point in the second quarter of 2021, at least by June. However, it remains to be seen whether the aircraft, which has been shown to be an example of how Boeing’s culture has failed, and a wider disaster, will be able to attract the public to its side.