After nearly two years of scrutiny, corporate upheaval and a standoff with global regulators, Boeing Co BA.N won approval on Wednesday from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to fly its 737 MAX jet again after two fatal disasters.
The FAA detailed software upgrades and training changes Boeing must make in order for it to resume commercial flights after a 20-month grounding, the longest in commercial aviation history.
The 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people within five months in 2018 and 2019 and triggered a hailstorm of investigations, frayed U.S. leadership in global aviation and cost Boeing some $20 billion.
The U.S. planemaker’s best-selling jet will resume commercial service facing strong headwinds from a resurgent coronavirus pandemic, new European trade tariffs and mistrust of one of the most scrutinized brands in aviation.
“Our family was broken,” Naoise Ryan, whose 39-year-old husband died aboard Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, said on Tuesday. “We are suffering and we’ll most likely continue to suffer for a very long time, if not for the rest of our lives.”
The 737 MAX is a re-engined upgrade of a jet first introduced in the 1960s. Single-aisle jets like the MAX and rival Airbus AIR.PA A320neo are workhorses that dominate global fleets and provide a major source of industry profit.
American Airlines AAL.O plans to relaunch the first commercial MAX flight since the grounding on Dec. 29. Southwest Airlines LUV.N, the world’s largest MAX operator, does not plan to fly the aircraft until the second quarter of 2021.
“The FAA’s directive is an important milestone,” said Stan Deal, head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide.”
Leading regulators in Europe, Brazil and China must issue their own approvals for their airlines after independent reviews, illustrating how the 737 MAX crashes upended a once U.S.-dominated airline safety system in which nations large and small for decades moved in lock-step with the FAA.