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FAA Formally Un-Grounds Boeing 737 MAX With New Airworthiness Directive

As expected, the Federal Aviation Administration will re-certify the Boeing 737 MAX for commercial operations, with a new airworthiness directive. In comments made in a video, FAA administrator Steve Dickson said he was “never driven by a timeline, but rather followed a methodical, deliberate safety process.”

After being grounded for 20 months, the Boeing 737 MAX is once again cleared to fly passengers in the United States. In a highly anticipated move, the Federal Aviation Administration has rescinded the emergency order of prohibition and issued a new airworthiness directive for the troubled airframe, allowing airlines to re-integrate it into fleets once the required modifications are completed.

Boeing 737 MAX Re-Clearance “Followed a Methodical, Deliberate Safety Process”

In a short video by FAA administrator Steve Dickson, the head of the agency said that the review followed a “methodical, deliberate safety process” to determine how it could be returned to service.

“Shortly after I became FAA administrator, I pledged to fly the Boeing 737 MAX, and promised that I wouldn’t unground it until I was 100 percent comfortable the aircraft was safe,” Dickson said in the video. “Based on all the activities we’ve undertaken in the past 20 months, and my personal experience flying the aircraft, I can tell you now that I’m 100 percent comfortable with my family flying on it.”

In the rescission of the grounding order, Dickson notes that “the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents involved a common cause,” previously identified as the MCAS system. In August, the FAA issued a proposed rule to make corrections to the system, including updating computer systems.

“Together, the Airworthiness Directive and the design approval address the unsafe condition as to the existing U.S.-registered fleet of Boeing Company Model 737-8 and 737-9 airplanes and as to any Model 737-8 and 737-9 airplanes for which The Boeing Company hereafter seeks airworthiness certificates and export certificates of airworthiness,” the order reads. “It is now practicable for the FAA to give preference to the proceedings that the FAA began in response to the emergency.”

Although the 737 MAX is cleared for duty, it doesn’t mean that airlines will immediately re-introduce the aircraft to their fleets. The airframes must meet the requirements of the Airworthiness Directive, which will require some time.

Airlines Respond Favorably to 737 MAX Re-Clearance

America’s three 737 MAX operators – American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines – were quick to issue praise for the order and announce their plan to start flying the aircraft again. Southwest Airlines, which has the biggest fleet of 737 MAX airframes, said they will ensure their pilots are re-trained on the aircraft and its changes.

“Every active Southwest Pilot will complete additional FAA-required flight training in one of our nine 737 MAX simulators and will complete additional FAA-required computer-based training covering MAX procedures,” Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly said in a statement. “Southwest will also require active Pilots to re-take our original 737 MAX 8 computer-based differences training as a refresher to complement the FAA-required training. Additionally, Southwest will conduct multiple readiness flights on each of our 34 MAX aircraft and complete thousands of hours of work, inspections, and the software updates before any of our Customers board a Southwest 737 MAX.”

On LinkedIn, United president Scott Kirby announced that the airline will not only require more simulator training for pilots, but will also complete their own test flights to ensure the aircraft are ready to carry passengers again. The Chicago-based carrier expects to re-integrate the 737 MAX into their operations in the first quarter of 2021.

American Airlines previously announced they would operate a single daily passenger-carrying test flight of the 737 MAX during the last week of 2020, in order to evaluate the changes and determine next steps. Reuters reports the carrier will move forward with that plan, potentially making them the first airline to operate the aircraft in 2020.

Although the administrator of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) previously said that the agency anticipated un-grounding the aircraft, they have not formally issued a re-clearance. Inspectors from the group completed test flights in September 2020, with next steps yet to be announced.

KenTarmac November 28, 2020

Agreed with pstm91. "Yes, what should have happened, and what they claimed happened, the first time."

behuman November 19, 2020

Soon the 737 airframe will be 53 years old, a flying dinosaur which should have been replaced long time ago. I will always choose Easy Jet over Ryanair, LATAM over GOL or whatever to fly a modern aircraft like the A320 series (first flight 20 years AFTER the 737). Unfortunately on long haul there is often no other choice than the noisy 777 :-(. And the above has nothing to do with trying to avoid US products.

AJCNL November 19, 2020

FAA? No they've lost credibility. I'll wait until Easa and the Australian authorities ok it.

dhdickson November 19, 2020

Before you beat up too hard on Boeing don't forget about AA 587, the A300 that went down in 2001 because the vertical stabilizer broke off. I know that Airbus argues that it was due to "poor pilot training" by AA, but both the ALPA and the NTSB didn't agree and took the position that the design was at least partially to blame. Don't get me wrong -- I agree with BC Shelby and think that Boeing made a colossal error in not developing a completely new airframe. But even in that context, there's no such thing as a perfect, unbreakable airplane. In the meantime, I'm happy to fly the MAX, and will look forward to light passenger loads thanks to those who won't . . .

RatherBeOnATrain November 18, 2020

If it's a Boeing I'm not going...