The Federal Aviation Administration lifted its ban on Boeing’s 737 Max on Wednesday, allowing the plane to return to the skies after being grounded for more than 20 months following crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people.
Until it was grounded, the single-aisle Max, with up to 230 seats, was a workhorse on routes covering short and intermediate distances. But the lifting of the ban raises several questions about what comes next, The New York Times’s Niraj Chokshi explains. Here’s what we know:
Most travelers are unlikely to encounter the Max anytime soon. The F.A.A. must still approve pilot training procedures for the U.S. airlines flying the Max. The planes need to be updated with new software and wiring. And airlines hammered by a steep decline in travel have little incentive to act with urgency.
American Airlines is expected to be the first carrier to fly the Max, with plans to use the plane from Dec. 29 through Jan. 4 for flights connecting Miami International Airport and La Guardia Airport in New York. The airline aims to increase service during January, using the Max for as many as 36 flights out of Miami in a single day, according to a letter from American executives to employees.
The Air Line Pilots Association expressed confidence in the changes ordered by the F.A.A. The union, which represents nearly 60,000 pilots in North America, including those at Delta and United, said it “believes that the engineering fixes to the flight-critical aircraft systems are sound and will be an effective component that leads to the safe return to service of the 737 Max.”
Many experts contend that it won’t take long to restore passenger’s confidence in the jet. Airlines are eager to demonstrate the plane’s safety, assuring customers that they are reviewing its readiness themselves. United said it would conduct “additional pilot training, multiple test flights and meticulous technical analysis to ensure the planes are ready to fly.”
The pandemic has relieved some of the pressure to get the plane flying quickly. Because so few people are traveling, airlines can afford to reintroduce the jet gradually without passing up much business, giving them time to show hesitant travelers that the plane can fly without incident. And analysts believe that a few months without any major problems will go a long way in overcoming any doubts.
Other aviation authorities will have to issue similar rulings before the Max can operate outside the United States. For example, Canada’s minister of transport, Marc Garneau, said his agency was still conducting its own review and that “there will be differences between what the F.A.A. has approved today, and what Canada will require for its operators.”