The 737 Max is back. The FAA approved changes to the 737 Max and its infamous MCAS system, and American Airlines announced, following that approval, that it would relaunch Max service on December 29, 2020, 21 months after the plane was grounded worldwide in the aftermath of a pair of accidents that killed 346 people.
It wasn’t just that two planes crashed, but rather, how they crashed that alarmed regulators and the public around the world. The two planes, one a Lion Air flight in Indonesia and the other an Ethiopian Airlines flight, were lost after their pilots were unable to stop a violent oscillation in pitch that resulted in both cases of the planes crashing catastrophically. The issues were both soon discovered to have been associated with a new system, for which Boeing had not mandated new training or for which it had even provided a new section in the operators’ manual.
The 737 Max, a new model with larger, more powerful and more fuel-efficient CFM Leap 1-B engines, was introduced into service in May of 2017, but until the two crashes, there hadn’t been any widespread understanding of the issues surrounding a new system, MCAS, which automatically enhances the stability of the plane to compensate for the changes the new, larger engines made to its flight envelope.
Boeing developed the new model in record time in order to give it a plane to compete with Airbus’ improved single-aisle jet, the A320neo, which boasted best-in-class fuel efficiency, and that was gaining orders fast.
As the story unfolded, questionable practices by Boeing and the FAA were brought to light, with Boeing allegedly doing a poor job of communicating its changes internally and with the FAA failing to properly oversee the certification of the new jet.
In March of 2019, the plane was grounded worldwide, and has been ever since. There are hundreds of jets parked at various locations around the world.
Before any airline can start flying the 737 Max again, they need to get their new training programs approved and implemented. The FAA agrees that this can likely be done by the end of this year.