After nearly two years of scrutiny, corporate upheaval, and a stand-off with global regulators, Boeing Co won approval from the US 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-mnth grounding, the longest in commecial 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 US leadership in global aviation and cost Boeing some US$20 billion.
The US plane-maker'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.
The 737 Max is an upgrade of a jet first introduced in the 1960s. Single-aisle jets like the Max and rival Airbus A-320neo are workhorses that dominate global fleets and provide a major source of industry profit.
American Airlines plans to re-launch the first commercial Max flight since the grounding on Dec 29. Southwest Airlines, 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 Mr 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 US-dominated airline safety system in which nations large and small for decades moved in lock-step with the FAA.
When it does fly, Boeing will be running a 24-hour war room to monitor all Max flights for issues that could impact the jet's return, from stuck landing gear to health emergencies, three people familiar with the matter said.
The FAA is requiring new pilot training and software upgrades to deal with a stall-prevention system called MCAS, which in both crashes repeatedly and powerfully shoved down the jet's nose as pilots struggled to regain control.
The FAA, which has faced accusations of being too close to Boeing in the past, said it would no longer allow Boeing to sign off on the airworthiness of some 450 737 Max jets built and parked during the flight ban. It plans in-person inspections that could take a year or more to complete, prolonging the jets' delivery.