Well, it seems like the notorious Boeing 737 Max will be back in the air by December 2020.
This October, American Airlines announced plans to return the 737 MAX to service by the end of the year, after it receives full certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of course. American Airlines announced that will operate one 737 MAX flight daily, from December 29 until January 1. The FAA, on the other hand, expects lifting the grounding order around mid-November, after its safety experts are fully convinced that the aircraft meets all certification standards. It is, of course, very difficult to regain public trust after not one, but two fatal accidents and hundreds of lives lost, and thousands of lives negatively impacted by the loss of their loved ones. To boost public confidence in the 737 MAX after the disastrous crashes, American Airlines in planning customer tours of the plane after Thanksgiving, allowing customers to view the aircraft in person at airports. Customers will also be given the freedom to contact pilots through calls and video messages, inquiring about the safety and credibility of the renewed jet. They will also be offered the option to switch to other flights, if they don’t feel comfortable enough aboard the plane.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will likely lift its grounding order shortly after the FAA. The Chinese authorities, on the other hand, are expected to take longer to return the grounded 737 MAX.
The Boeing 737 MAX narrow-body airliner has been grounded worldwide since March 2019 after two fatal crashes within five months. 346 lives were lost aboard the tragic flights: Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. There will be no PR campaign to promote the jet’s return, and there are 346 reasons not to.
Since then, Boeing has been working day and night with the FAA and other global regulators like the EASA to return the grounded aircraft to service, making all necessary modifications, and addressing all safety issues. Heavily impacted by the tragic accidents, Boeing has also established a USD 100 million-relief fund to support families of those affected by the tragic accidents.
The 737 MAX was only two months old at the time of the fatal crash of Lion Air Flight 610. It was also only four months old at the time of the fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Both crashes were attributed to serious and uncontrollable malfunctioning of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight-control system, pushing the aircraft into a dive due to data from a faulty angle-of-attack sensor, only minutes after take-off.
Recertifying the grounded jet has not been a walk in the park at all. Grounding the MAX drove Boeing into its biggest crisis ever, a crisis later augmented by the disastrous impact of the pandemic on air travel in general.
The past few months, Boeing took a major leap towards ending the MAX’s grounding…
July 1st 2020, the FAA and Boeing completed certification test flights on the Boeing 737 MAX.
July 21st 2020, The FAA released a new statement on the Boeing 737 MAX, inviting the public to comment and weigh in on the proposed design modifications and crew procedures over a period of 45 days as the recertification process of the grounded aircraft continues.
August 3rd 2020, the FAA released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for an airworthiness directive of the Boeing 737 MAX. The NPRM is a draft airworthiness directive (AD), which remained open for public comment until September 21. The AD suggested four key design changes to the grounded aircraft, addressing the safety issues that lead to the two fatal crashes. Read more about the proposed changes in brief here!
In late August and early September, Transport Canada and EASA each concluded independent recertification flights. The EASA’s test flights took place in Vancouver, Canada, as agreed by Boeing, the FAA and the EASA. Simulator tests also took place in the London Gatwick United Kingdom.
October 6th 2020, the FAA issued a draft Flight Standardization Board (FSB) report on revised training procedures for the MAX, open for public comment through November 2. The report included recommendations from the Joint Operations Evaluation Board (JOEB). The JOEB, comprised of civil aviation authorities from the United States, Canada, Brazil, and the European Union, had recently met for nine days.
After reviewing and addressing the public comments on the draft report, the FAA will publish a final FSB report.
Before rescinding the grounding order, the FAA will review the aircraft’s final design documentation to evaluate compliance with all FAA regulations, and release the Final Design Documentation and Technical Advisory Board (TAB) report. After that, the FAA will issue a Continuous Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) report, providing notice of pending safety actions and publish a final Airworthiness Directive (AD) that will advise operators of required corrective actions before the aircraft could reenter commercial service. If the operators complete the work specified by the AD along with required training, the FAA will officially unground the aircraft. The FAA, after personally examining and reviewing all 737 MAX airplanes manufactured since the grounding, will retain its authority to issue or export “Certificates of Airworthiness” for all these new airplanes. The FAA will also review and approve training programs for all part operators.
It will take a few weeks minimum of few weeks after certification before 737 MAX returns to the air, with airlines having to retrain pilots and perform necessary maintenance and modifications on the grounded fleet.
Will there be light at the end of the tunnel for the 737 MAX after all? We will definitely find out in the coming few months!