The FAA said it brought unparalleled scrutiny to the Max this time. Boeing and federal regulators were faulted in several investigations of the crashes for missing fatal flaws in the aircraft. Investigators pointed to lax government oversight and problems during the certification process.
The Max was grounded worldwide on March 13, 2019, after the FAA said satellite data showed “the possibility of a shared cause” for two crashes, one on Oct. 29, 2018, in Indonesia and the other on March 10, 2019, in Ethiopia. Investigators later found that problems with an automated flight control feature led to both crashes.
Administrator Steve Dickson of the FAA signed Wednesday’s order ending the ban, and the agency said it can “assure the global community that the 737 MAX is safe to operate.”
“We have not left anything to chance here,” Dickson added. “I would put my own family on it, and we will fly on it.”
Boeing said the company had undertaken a “thorough assessment to ensure that our systems meet all regulatory standards, reflect industry best practices and also incorporate learnings from independent reviews.”
The ban is being lifted in a significantly changed environment, with the airline industry decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. Passenger numbers remain far below normal levels, tens of thousand of airline workers have been laid off, and carriers are losing billions of dollars.
Even with the FAA action, it will still be several weeks before the first Max jets return to the skies. Hundreds of the aircraft were grounded worldwide, including more than 70 in the United States, and others were built by Boeing and have yet to be delivered to customers. The planes, which have been parked for extended periods, must be inspected and updated, and more than 14,000 pilots need to be retrained at U.S. carriers alone.
Although some airlines are ready to fly the Max again — the more fuel-efficient planes will save them money — it is unclear whether the public will be eager to return, once travel rebounds from the pandemic, perhaps after widespread immunization with promising vaccines next year.