FAA clears Boeing 737 MAX return to service

Aviation Updates Philippines – After having been involved in two separate fatal crashes over two years ago, the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft has been cleared by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday, marking a definite return to service after months of grounding.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order paving the way for the once-problematic jet to reenter commercial service worldwide. The directive was enforced following a 'comprehensive and methodical safety review process' which took 20 months to finish.

"Throughout our transparent process, we cooperated closely with our foreign counterparts on every aspect of the return to service. Additionally, Administrator Dickson personally took the recommended pilot training and piloted the Boeing 737 MAX, so he could experience the handling of the aircraft firsthand," the FAA said in a statement.

However, the FAA released an Airworthiness Directive (AD) to specify required changes to make before an aircraft is allowed to fly commercially again. Moreover, the agency also issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC), and published the MAX training requirements.

"The FAA must approve 737 MAX pilot training program revisions for each U.S. airline operating the MAX and will retain its authority to issue airworthiness certificates and export certificates of airworthiness for all new 737 MAX aircraft manufactured since the FAA issued the grounding order. Furthermore, airlines that have parked their MAX aircraft must take required maintenance steps to prepare them to fly again," the statement reads

"The design and certification of this aircraft included an unprecedented level of collaborative and independent reviews by aviation authorities around the world. Those regulators have indicated that Boeing’s design changes, together with the changes to crew procedures and training enhancements, will give them the confidence to validate the aircraft as safe to fly in their respective countries and regions." 

"Following the return to service, the FAA will continue to work closely with our foreign civil aviation partners to evaluate any potential additional enhancements for the aircraft. The agency also will conduct the same rigorous, continued operational safety oversight of the MAX that we provide for the entire U.S. commercial fleet."

Meanwhile, the American planemaker responded to the FAA's statement earlier saying it has continued to work hand-in-hand with airlines to provide detailed recommendations on long-term aircraft storage and in safely bringing the MAX back to the skies.

Boeing Chief Executive Officer David Calhoun acknowledged the mishaps and said: "We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations. These events and the lessons we have learned as a result have reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity."

The US aviation agency grounded all 737 MAX worldwide in March 13, 2019—two days after the fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, where 157 passengers and crew figured in the accident. The Ethiopian plane crash was connected to the crash of Lion Air flight 610 five months earlier, killing 189.

The failure of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) mainly caused the two crashes. The MCAS is a software which automatically responds and corrects an unusually high angle of attack during manual flight to prevent an aerodynamic stall.

The new system was installed on the 737 MAX aircraft to match the pilots' feel to the older 737 Next Generation (NG) variant. Boeing said NG certified pilots can immediately fly the MAX after only training on an iPad, without even mentioning the MCAS on the aircraft manuals.

Photo from Lindsey Wasson, Reuters