Boeing 737 MAX Airplanes Can Return to Service Thanks to Rescission of Order By Federal Aviation Administration

The Federal Aviation Administration of the United States initially ordered the temporary grounding of Boeing 737 MAX airplanes which were operated by airlines based in the United States or its territories effective as of 3:00 in the afternoon on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 — no specific date or time had been announced as to when the temporary grounding of the aircraft was to expire, with the airplanes permitted to fly once again — and that grounding was followed by other airlines worldwide…

Boeing 737 MAX Airplanes Can Return to Service Thanks to Rescission of Order By Federal Aviation Administration

…but as of earlier this morning, Wednesday, November 18, 2020, the order of grounding the Boeing 737 MAX airplane was officially rescinded by Steve Dickson — who is the current administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States — following what is referred to as the completion of greater than 20 months of a comprehensive and methodical safety review process, which is a major impediment that was removed in order for the beleaguered airplane to return to commercial aviation service.

This official video was released from the Federal Aviation Administration with Dickson explaining the process which led to the rescission of the initial order.

Part of the official statement is as follows:

During that time, FAA employees worked diligently to identify and address the safety issues that played a role in the tragic loss of 346 lives aboard Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Throughout our transparent process, we cooperated closely with our foreign counterparts on every aspect of the return to service. Additionally, Administrator Dickson personally took the recommended pilot training and piloted the Boeing 737 MAX, so he could experience the handling of the aircraft firsthand.

In addition to rescinding the order that grounded the aircraft, the FAA today published an Airworthiness Directive (PDF) specifying design changes that must be made before the aircraft returns to service, issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC), and published the MAX training requirements. (PDF) These actions do not allow the MAX to return immediately to the skies. The FAA must approve 737 MAX pilot training program revisions for each U.S. airline operating the MAX and will retain its authority to issue airworthiness certificates and export certificates of airworthiness for all new 737 MAX aircraft manufactured since the FAA issued the grounding order. Furthermore, airlines that have parked their MAX aircraft must take required maintenance steps to prepare them to fly again.

The design and certification of this aircraft included an unprecedented level of collaborative and independent reviews by aviation authorities around the world. 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.  Following the return to service, the FAA will continue to work closely with our foreign civil aviation partners to evaluate any potential additional enhancements for the aircraft. The agency also will conduct the same rigorous, continued operational safety oversight of the MAX that we provide for the entire U.S. commercial fleet.

The official response to the rescission of the order from The Boeing Company is as follows:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today rescinded the order that halted commercial operations of Boeing (NYSE: BA) 737-8s and 737-9s. The move will allow airlines that are under the FAA’s jurisdiction, including those in the U.S., to take the steps necessary to resume service and Boeing to begin making deliveries.

“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” said David Calhoun, chief executive officer of The Boeing Company. “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.”

Throughout the past 20 months, Boeing has worked closely with airlines, providing them with detailed recommendations regarding long-term storage and ensuring their input was part of the effort to safely return the airplanes to service.

An Airworthiness Directive issued by the FAA spells out the requirements that must be met before U.S. carriers can resume service, including installing software enhancements, completing wire separation modifications, conducting pilot training and accomplishing thorough de-preservation activities that will ensure the airplanes are ready for service.

“The FAA’s directive is an important milestone,” said Stan Deal, president and chief executive officer 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.”

In addition to changes made to the airplane and pilot training, Boeing has taken three important steps to strengthen its focus on safety and quality.

  1. Organizational Alignment: More than 50,000 engineers have been brought together in a single organization that includes a new Product & Services Safety unit, unifying safety responsibilities across the company.
  2. Cultural Focus: Engineers have been further empowered to improve safety and quality. The company is identifying, diagnosing and resolving issues with a higher level of transparency and immediacy.
  3. Process Enhancements: By adopting next-generation design processes, the company is enabling greater levels of first-time quality.

For more information, visit www.Boeing.com/737-max-updates.

Sara Nelson — who is the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO — released this statement after the rescission of the temporary grounding of the fleet of Boeing 737 MAX airplanes in the United States was officially announced:

As aviation’s first responders and last line of defense, Flight Attendants understand that our jobs and our lives depend on this industry meeting the highest possible standards of safety and security. After nearly two years of reviews and the redesign of critical aircraft systems, U.S. regulators are clearing the 737 MAX to resume flying.

This day is the result of the persistence of engineers and manufacturing workers at Boeing. But this day is also a reminder of why this plane has not flown for two years and the responsibility we all have to ensure we hear those who questioned or called out what went wrong.

We must honor 346 lives by passing legislation that ensures the process and events that led to their deaths are never repeated. Yesterday, the House passed Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act (H.R. 8408), led by Chairman Peter DeFazio, which would overhaul the way airplanes are certified. Congress should act swiftly to pass this legislation and implement these changes to the certification process. This does not relate to the return to service of the 737 MAX, but this is a moment when we must make good on our commitment to do far better and demand only the highest standards of safety.

The history of the 737 MAX shows what happens when we undermine and starve key government functions. The 737 MAX was rushed to market without proper review, enabled by the out-of-control ODA system that was put in the hands of the corporation to maintain. Outsourcing regulatory oversight is a slippery slope as corporate efforts to maximize profits comes at the highest cost. The crisis was exacerbated when the Trump administration cow-towed to Boeing and dragged its heels—damaging public confidence at home and the reputation of American aviation abroad.

Today is a new day for the 737 MAX as worldwide confidence is garnered in its return to service. Flight Attendants will be the ones to answer the flying public’s questions once the MAX returns to service. We will continue to work as one crew with our pilots and engage with Boeing, the FAA, worldwide aviation, and all aviation unions to ensure the safe return to service.”

Incidents Which Prompted the Initial Order

A Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft — which operated as Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi — crashed approximately six minutes after takeoff on Sunday, March 10, 2019 at 8:38 in the morning; and no survivors have been reported amongst the 149 passengers or eight members of the flight crew.

The airplane was a relatively new one, as its first flight occurred on Tuesday, October 30, 2018.

Coincidentally, only one day before that first flight — on Monday, October 29, 2018 — a Boeing 737-800 MAX airplane crashed. It operated as Lion Air flight 610 from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang as a domestic flight within Indonesia. The airplane crashed into the Java Sea approximately 35 nautical miles northeast of Jakarta at 6:33 that morning local time, killing all 181 passengers and eight members of the flight crew who were aboard.

The initial order last year came after many other airlines and official aviation agencies in other countries had already issued similar orders or changes in policies pertaining to the Boeing 737 MAX — which are actually the Boeing 737-8 and Boeing 737-9 models of airplanes — and it conflicted with this Continued Airworthiness Notification which was issued only two days prior to the international community by the same agency in relation to the aircraft.

The Boeing 787 “Dreamliner”: A Different Federal Aviation Administration?

The Federal Aviation Administration was initially far more proactive in passenger safety with the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” airplane model when it was first introduced than it had been pertaining to the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The fleet of Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” airplanes suffered from lithium battery issues when it was first placed into service — such as when a battery fire occurred in January of 2013 at Logan International Airport in Boston, which prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to ground the entire fleet of Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft worldwide for months — and greater than $600 million dollars was spent before the worldwide fleet of Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft was permitted to fly again in April of 2013

…and problems continued to plague the fleet of aircraft. For example, a maintenance crew at Narita Airport reportedly discovered white smoke and an unidentified liquid emanating from the main battery of a Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft in January of 2014 — supposedly two hours before it was to depart from Tokyo to Bangkok with 158 passengers.

Thankfully, those problems with lithium batteries have not seemed to plague the fleet of Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” airplanes lately — but safer and faster batteries which last longer and are more efficient would always be welcomed.

The United States has almost always led the rest of the world in terms of safety in commercial aviation — but despite the otherwise stellar safety record of the variations of the Boeing 737 aircraft in general since its first commercial flight occurred 51 years ago in February of 1968, did the Federal Aviation Administration drop the ball in waiting to uncharacteristically become the last entity to ground the troubled aircraft?

Summary

Considering that a number of commercial airlines worldwide had retired entire fleets of different aircraft as a result of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, the Boeing 737 MAX airplanes can potentially dominate the skies around the world in the long term with their fuel efficiency as one of numerous reasons — assuming that no other safety issues are associated with them.

Despite the rescission of the initial order by the Federal Aviation Administration, passengers may not feel comfortable enough to board Boeing 787-8 and Boeing 787-9 airplanes because they may not have enough confidence that the problems associated with them have been resolved. I would not have an issue boarding one of those airplanes as a passenger in the future…

…but do you feel the same way?

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

One thought on “Boeing 737 MAX Airplanes Can Return to Service Thanks to Rescission of Order By Federal Aviation Administration”

  1. DAVID AMERLING says:

    Glad to see your comment about the 787– do you feel the same about the 737?

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