Commercial flights on Boeing’s controversial 737 MAX aircraft resumed in the U.S. Tuesday after a nearly two-year hiatus following several deadly crashes that led regulators to ground the jet worldwide in 2019 while its safety was evaluated.
American Airlines is the first U.S. airline to bring the Boeing 737 MAX back into passenger service after the Federal Aviation Administration cleared the jet to fly in November.
The craft flew from Miami International Airport to New York’s LaGuardia Airport Tuesday morning, and reportedly held the wife of the flight captain, the first officer’s mother and American Airlines President Robert Isom.
“This aircraft is ready to go,” Isom said at a media briefing before the flight, reiterating the airline’s confidence in the craft’s safety.
The company said it will take a “phased approach” to the MAX’s return, anticipating one Miami-New York round trip a day until January, when more will return to service.
In 2019, regulators grounded Boeing’s 737 MAX fleet worldwide after two deadly crashes occurred in quick succession. In 2018, 189 passengers and crew on board a Lion Air flight died when the aircraft crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia. Less than five months later, all 157 passengers and crew on board an Ethiopian Airlines flight perished when the plane crashed minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa. A congressional report into the incidents said the crashes “were the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA,” the U.S. aviation regulator. The U.S. regulator cleared the plane for passenger flight in November, pending a series of technical fixes and crew training.
346. This is how many died in the two crashes that led regulators to ground the Boeing 737 MAX fleet.
Relatives of those who died in the two crashes oppose the MAX’s return, Reuters report. “I call on anyone looking to book a flight in the future to understand when they buy their ticket what type of airplane will be used so they can make an informed decision for themselves and their loved ones,” said Yalena Lopez-Lewis, whose husband Antoine Lewis died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the airline industry hard as passengers avoid travelling and governments’ actively restrict it. American Airlines said it expects to fly less than half its 2019 schedule through February 2021 as the pandemic continues to weigh down demand and restrictions remain in place. Isom expressed hope for the upcoming vaccines, however, and told reporters the airline is “hopeful that the vaccine will show some promise.”