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Boeing 737 Max cleared for flight by US aviation officials following two deadly crashes



U

S aviation officials have cleared Boeing’s 737 Max for flight nearly two years after it was grounded following a pair of deadly crashes.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the move on Wednesday, explaining that the decision was made after a comprehensive and methodical 20-month review process.

The American air safety agency said existing aircraft will need to be modified before they can go back into service as the clearance will not allow the plane to “return immediately” to the skies.

Once the FAA has approved pilot training changes for each US airline and required maintenance on the planes, then the Max could return to the skies.

A total of 346 passengers and crew members on both planes were killed.

The FAA said the move was made in co-operation with air safety regulators worldwide.

“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,” the FAA said in a statement.

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Wreckage at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 en route to Nairobi, Kenya

/ EPA )

The move came after numerous US congressional hearings on the crashes that led to criticism of the FAA for lax oversight and Boeing for rushing to implement a new software system that put profits over safety and ultimately led to the dismissal of its chief executive.

Investigators focused on anti-stall software that Boeing had devised to counter the plane’s tendency to tilt nose-up because of the size and placement of the engines. That software pushed the nose down repeatedly on both planes that crashed, overcoming the pilots’ struggles to regain control. In each case, a single faulty sensor triggered the nose-down pitch.

The FAA required Boeing to change the software so it does not repeatedly point the nose of the plane down to counteract possible aerodynamic stalling. Boeing says the software also does not over-ride the pilot’s controls like it did in the past. Boeing also must install new display systems for pilots and change the way wires are routed to a tail stabiliser bar.

Indonesia orders inspection of all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft after crash

“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,” current Boeing chief executive David Calhoun said in a statement.

Boeing sales of new planes have plunged because of the Max crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Orders for more than 1,000 Max jets have been cancelled or removed from Boeing’s backlog this year.

American Airlines is the only US airline to put the Max back in its schedule so far, starting with one round trip daily between New York and Miami beginning on December 29.

Nearly 400 Max jets were in service worldwide when they were grounded, and Boeing has built and stored about 450 more since then. All have to undergo maintenance and get some modifications before they can fly.

Lion Air crash in Indonesia

Recovered personal items of passengers on board the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 are laid out at the search and rescue operations centre

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Indonesian Navy Seals dive during the recovery mission for the crashed Lion Air flight

EPA

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo holds a personal item from Lion Air flight

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Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (C), inspects recovered debris and personal items from Lion Air flight

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Search and Rescue personnel examine recovered debris

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Indonesian search and rescue personnel prepare for a recovery mission after Lion Air flight JT610 crashed into the sea

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Oil slick where Lion Air flight JT 610 reportedly crashed into the sea off the coast of Indonesia’s Java island

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Members of a rescue team prepare to search for survivors from the Lion Air flight JT 610

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Relatives of passengers arrive at Lion Air’s crisis center at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang

AP

Nugroho from Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency shows personnel looking at items believed to be from the wreckage

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Indonesian rescuers evacuating parts from a crashed Lion Air passenger plane in waters off Tanjung Karawang

EPA

A rescue team member points to the location where Indonesia’s Lion Air flight JT 610 had crashed into the sea

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Bangka Belitung province governor Erzaldi Rosman Djohan (seated C, holding microphone), addresses journalists

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Members of a rescue team prepare to search for survivors

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Airport authority head Bagus Sunjoyo (3rd R, holding microphone) addresses journalists after Lion Air flight JT 610 crashed into the sea

AFP/Getty Images

An aerial view shows the site where it is believed the Lion Air flight JT610 crashed

Reuters

A member of an Indonesian rescue team conducting a briefing on handling the evacuation process

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Indonesian rescue team members collecting the remains of the crashed plane at Tanjung Priok Harbou

EPA

Indonesian rescue team members collecting the remains of the crashed plane at Tanjung Priok Harbou

EPA

Pilots must also undergo simulator training, which was not required when the aircraft was introduced.

Boeing’s then-chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, initially suggested that the pilots were to blame. However, congressional investigators discovered an FAA analysis — conducted after the first Max crash — that predicted there would be 15 more crashes during the plane’s life span if the flight-control software were not fixed.

After an 18-month investigation, the House Transportation Committee heaped blame on Boeing – which was under pressure to develop the Max to compete with a plane from European rival Airbus – and the FAA, which certified the Max and was the last agency in the world to ground it after the crashes.

The investigators said Boeing suffered from a “culture of concealment” and pressured engineers in a rush to get the plane on the market.

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Boeing was perceived as putting undue pressure on the FAA after it repeatedly failed to meet its own deadlines for how quickly it could fix the plane.  As its predictions continued to be wrong, Mr Muilenburg was eventually dismissed in December last year.

Europe’s aviation regulator, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, said it will take public comment on its plans to clear the Max for flight and expects to finalise a plan late this year or early in 2021. Some EU states will have to lift their own individual grounding notices as well.

Regulators in Canada and China are still conducting their own reviews.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.