- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Federal Aviation Administration cleared Boeing’s 737 Max for flight Wednesday, nearly two years after a pair of deadly crashes, marking a first step for the struggling aerospace giant toward recovering its reputation and profitability.

The air safety agency said it completed a “comprehensive and methodical” 20-month review before rescinding the longest grounding of a jetliner in U.S. history. The FAA said it made the decision in cooperation with regulators around the world, most of whom also plan to clear the Max for flight soon.

Airlines in the U.S. will be able to fly the Max again after Boeing updates key flight control software and computers on each plane, and pilots receive new training in simulators. That process will take several weeks to a few months, depending on the airline.

Boeing still faces legal problems from the fatal crashes and a travel industry decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company lost $636 million last year, its first annual loss since 1997, and plans to cut 11,000 jobs by the end of next year.

As the largest U.S. exporter, Boeing’s lost business has contributed to a rise in the nation’s trade deficit this year to its highest level in 14 years.

Despite the FAA’s action, Boeing’s stock price fell 3.1% Wednesday to close at $203.30 per share.

Family members of victims of the crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia accused the FAA and Boeing of withholding documents and said the Max isn’t safe to fly again. But some travelers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport said Wednesday that they would be willing to fly on the plane.

“I can’t imagine how rigorous that inspection is now,” said Corby Kenter, who was returning to Dallas after a business trip. “You can probably relate that to any issues and recalls with cars, on a smaller scale. But once those things happen, lights are shining a lot brighter on it, so I would feel confident. They’re under the spotlight and microscope right now.”

Philip and Wilma Keller of Orlando, Florida, also said more rigorous inspections would make them feel comfortable flying on the Max.

“They made adjustments to the plane, so they can’t take over complete control like it used to do,” Mr. Keller said.

But a Virginia woman who wouldn’t give her name said before boarding a flight to San Antonio that she would be a “little apprehensive” about anything with previous “failed operations.”

A total of 346 passengers and crew members were killed in the accidents involving Lion Air in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines in March 2019. Investigators determined that a malfunction in an automated flight control system called MCAS repeatedly nudged the plane’s nose down in certain flight conditions, causing the jetliner to dive until the pilots lost control.

Boeing and the FAA agreed on changes to MCAS that limit its ability to cause a dive. Instead of being activated by a single sensor, the system will activate only if two sensors agree it’s needed.

“The design changes we have overseen make it impossible for these accident scenarios to reoccur,” said FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson.

The FAA also announced a requirement that the agency’s experts, not Boeing officials, must approve the safety of all MAX planes before the manufacturer delivers them to customers. About 450 planes are waiting to be delivered.

The agency said approval of the safety fixes reflects “an unprecedented level of collaborative and independent reviews by aviation authorities around the world.”

The House unanimously approved legislation Tuesday to reform the FAA’s aircraft certification process. The bill, approved on a voice vote, would require an expert panel to evaluate Boeing’s safety culture and to recommend improvements, and mandates that aircraft manufacturers adopt safety management systems and complete system safety assessments for significant design changes.

It’s not clear whether the Senate will approve the legislation by the end of the year.

A House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee investigation blamed Boeing and the FAA, which certified the Max and was the last agency in the world to ground it after the crashes. The House investigators said Boeing suffered from a “culture of concealment” and that the manufacturer pressured engineers to rush the plane to the market to compete with European rival Airbus.

American is the only U.S. airline to put the Max back onto its schedule so far, with one round trip daily between New York and Miami beginning Dec. 29. United expects to start using the plane early next year. Southwest, which has 34 of the jets — more than any other airline — isn’t expected to fly passengers on the 737 Max until spring.

Although Boeing received the FAA’s go-ahead, the company is grappling with canceled orders and diminished demand for air travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boeing CEO David Calhoun said the fatal crashes “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.”

Anton Sahadi, who lives in Jakarta, Indonesia, and lost two brothers in the Lion Air crash, said it’s too early for the Max to fly again.

“The cases from the incidents are not 100% finished yet,” he said. “I think all the victims’ family in Indonesia and Ethiopia will feel the same, so regretful, why it can fly again because we are still in the recovery process for our problems because of the incidents.”

Naoise Ryan, an Irish citizen whose husband died in the Ethiopian crash, said the Max is “the same airplane that crashed not once but twice because safety was not a priority for this company.”

A Justice Department criminal investigation of the crashes is continuing, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has opened an investigation.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide