The FAA has ungrounded the Boeing 737 MAX, paving way for re-entry into service

The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded in March 2019 after two of these newer generation aircraft crashed, one at Lion Air and one at Ethiopian. After the second crash, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), the US regulator who is primarily responsible for certifying the 737 MAX had ordered a grounding of the aircraft, which was supposed to be implemented by all airlines across the globe.

At that time, Boeing had expected to work pretty quickly to work towards a fix of the situation and hoped for a quick ungrounding. Little did we know that it would be 20 months before the aircraft would take to the skies again.

Today, the FAA has officially notified the ungrounding of the plane in the USA. The order was signed off by Steve Dickson, the head of the US Federal Aviation Administration. Dickson had flown the aircraft himself a few weeks ago and has expressed comfort in flying the plane, including with his family. He has explained his decision to unground the MAX in a video posted by the FAA.

This move clears the coast for American carriers to prepare for the 737 MAX to return to service shortly. Similarly, the European Unions aviation regulator, the EASA, had also expressed satisfaction with the 737 MAX a while ago, which makes another big market ready to operate the 737 MAX aircraft again shortly.

Next Steps for operators

There are still a few hoops to jump before airlines are going to be able to operate their 737 MAX aircraft or collect the ones stored at Boeing waiting to be delivered. The first airline in line seems to be American Airlines, which intends to have their planes scheduled for commercial flights six weeks from now (November 18, 2020). Southwest, another major US operator, would like to take a few months to get their planes up in the air. Here are the steps that the FAA prescribed before an airline will be permitted to fly the MAX again.

  • A software update needs to be installed on all 737 MAX aircraft to update the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was the primary software system that failed to operate in a desirable fashion causing the two crashes.
  • US carriers will need FAA approval for the 737 MAX training programme for pilots operating the aircraft.
  • Pilots will need to undergo additional simulator training to be able to fly the 737 MAX again.

While the FAA will govern US aviation, other regulators will be left to decide on their own about their comfort with the 737 MAX and its service return. For instance, in India, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, DGCA, will have to assess on their own the return of the MAX to the Indian skies. Mostly I expect this to be in line with the FAA directive and perhaps an order would follow soon. There is no statement by the DGCA at the moment on the 737 MAX’s return to the skies. Their earlier stance was that they would make their independent assessment before allowing the 737 MAX to fly again. SpiceJet is the only Indian operator of the aircraft at the moment and has 13 jets already inducted in their fleet.

SpiceJet Boeing 737 MAX

SpiceJet 737 MAX aircraft parked at Delhi Airport

Will you fly the 737 MAX again?

I would imagine there would need to be a certain amount of transparency to be expected from MAX operators at the moment because not everyone is going to be comfortable flying them on day 1. The 737 MAX is expected to be the most scrutinised plane there is, and hence I’d be comfortable flying it when an opportunity comes my way. Not only that, the FAA and the other regulators would have made Boeing kick the tyres around everywhere, where earlier they’d go with the OEM’s word before.

Eventually, perhaps, we will all end up flying it anyways, given there are 5263 orders for this aircraft type and that means that like it or not, you will come around one at some point in time. Over 450 aircraft are already manufactured and parked across the USA waiting to be delivered to customers, including some whitetails now, such as those which were ordered and manufactured for Jet Airways.

Bottomline

The US aviation regulator, FAA, has issued an ungrounding order for the Boeing 737 MAX, 20 months after grounding it due to two crashes that occurred. The existing 737 MAX aircraft will need to be updated for their software, and pilots will need to train again on the simulators.  Other regulators are expected to start coming through with their ungrounding orders sooner than later.

Are you ready for the Boeing 737 MAX in the skies again?


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