Commercial flights with Boeing 737 Max jetliners resumed Wednesday for the first time since they were grounded worldwide nearly two years ago following two deadly accidents.
Brazil’s Gol Airlines became the first in the world to return the planes to its active fleet, using a 737 Max 8 on a flight from Sao Paulo to Porto Alegre, according to flightradar24.com.
The company’s own announcement didn’t specify the route of the flight.
Gol is set to start regular service on December 18, according to aviation data firm Cirium, with several daily flights between Sao Paulo and other major Brazilian cities.
Customers will be able to exchange their tickets if they don’t want to fly on a 737 Max, a Gol spokesperson told The Associated Press in an email.
Several passengers at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos airport were surprised to learn they had traveled on a 737 Max aircraft, though it was marked on their ticket. Others were aware.
A Gol Airlines Boeing 737 Max plane approaches to land at the international airport in Guarulhos, near Sao Paulo, Brazil on Wednesday
Wednesday’s Gol Airlines flight from Sao Paulo to Porto Alegre was the first commercial flight wit the 737 Max jetliner since they were grounded worldwide following two deadly accidents nearly two years ago
Passengers aboard the 737 Max flight with the low-cost airline are seen above just before takeoff near Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday
Several passengers at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos airport were surprised to learn they had traveled on a 737 Max aircraft, though it was marked on their ticket. Others were aware
Pilots are pictured in the cockpit of a Boeing 737 Max aircraft operated by low-cost airline Gol as it sits on the tarmac before take off at Guarulhos International Airport near Sao Paulo on Wednesday
‘I was a bit apprehensive but my husband is a pilot, so I asked him. He said it was fine,’ said Lucelyn Jockyman, who texted her mother before takeoff.
‘If anything happens, look after my dogs please!’ she joked.
Gol, the country’s largest airline with 36 million passengers annually, owns seven 737 Max aircraft, according to Cirium.
It is the only Brazilian company with the model in its fleet.
The Boeing plane was grounded globally in March 2019, shortly after a 737 Max crashed in Ethiopia.
A prior crash in Indonesia involving the model occurred in October 2018. In all, 346 people died.
Both disasters were due to a flaw in a safety system designed to prevent the nose of the plane from pitching up during flight.
Boeing said it upgraded the plane’s safety systems and software before winning approval to fly again.
The aircraft maker’s redemption comes in the middle of a pandemic that has scared away passengers and decimated the aviation industry, limiting its ability to make a comeback.
Investigators and recovery workers continue recovery efforts at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 13, 2019 in Ejere, Ethiopia. All 157 passengers and crew perished after the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 Flight came down six minutes after taking off from Bole Airport
Shoes found during the search for victims from the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 are collected at the Jakarta International Container Terminal in Jakarta, Indonesia, on October 31, 2018
Air travel in the United States alone is down about 65 per cent from a year ago.
Boeing sales of new planes have plunged because of the Max and the coronavirus pandemic.
Orders for more than 1,000 Max jets have been canceled or removed from Boeing’s backlog this year.
Each plane has a sticker price of $99 million to $135 million, although airlines routinely pay less.
Nearly 400 Max jets were in service worldwide when they were grounded, and Boeing has built and stored about 450 more since then. All have to undergo maintenance before they can fly.
Boeing Max 737’s two deadly crashes: What happened?
Boeing was forced to ground the 737 Max after the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia happened less than six months apart.
The first disaster happened October 29, 2018, when a Max flying as Lion Air flight JT 610 fell into the Java Sea 15 minutes after taking off from Jakarta.
All 189 aboard the plane died, including 180 Indonesians, one Italian and one Indian.
The second crash occurred on March 10, 2019, when Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302, which also was a Max jet, took off from Bole International Airport in the Ethiopian capital and crashed.
All 157 people onboard the plane died.
US carriers American, United and Southwest had to cancel flights for the holidays, including over Christmas and into the new year, after the plane was grounded around the world.
Boeing reported on July 14, 2019, that customers canceled orders for 60 of the grounded 737 MAX jets in June.
The aircraft maker removed another 123 planes from its backlog over doubts that the deals will be completed.
Pilots must also undergo simulator training, which was not required when the aircraft was introduced.
Hansman said training for qualified 737 pilots shouldn’t take long because Boeing has fixed software problems.
Brazil’s aviation regulator lifted its restrictions on the 737 Max in November, clearing the way for the plane to resume flights in Latin America’s biggest country.
Similar restrictions have been lifted in the U.S. and Europe, where commercial airline flights with the plane are expected to resume soon, likely starting with American Airlines on December 29.
‘The MAX is one of the most efficient aircraft in aviation history and the only one to undergo a complete recertification process,’ Gol’s chief executive officer, Paulo Kakinoff, said in a statement earlier this week.
An upgrade of a jet first introduced in the 1960s, the 737 Max was rolled out in 2017 and is Boeing’s top-selling jet.
The back-to-back disasters sparked federal investigations not only into Boeing, but into failures in Federal Aviation Administration oversight and certification.
FAA chief Stephen Dickson signed an order last month rescinding the grounding.
US airlines will be able to fly the Max once Boeing updates critical software and computers on each plane and pilots receive training in flight simulators.
Dickson, who took over in August 2019, said he felt ‘100% confident’ in the 737 Max.
‘We’ve done everything humanly possible to make sure’ these types of crashes do not happen again, Dickson told Reuters, adding that design changes to the jet ‘have eliminated what caused these particular accidents.’
American is the only US airline to put the Max back in its schedule so far, starting with one round trip daily between New York and Miami from December 29.
New pilot training and software upgrades will focus on the plane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which is intended to counter a tendency for the nose of the 737 Max to rise up.
In both disasters, the software pushed the nose down repeatedly on both planes that crashed, overcoming the pilots’ struggles to regain control.
In each case, a single faulty sensor triggered the nose-down pitch.
When the 737 Max does return to the skies, Boeing will be running a 24-hour war room to monitor flights, Reuters reported.
The FAA also plans in-person inspections of hundreds of jets built during the ban, slowing their distribution by months, if not years.
Shares of Boeing rose by about 1 per cent in trading on Wall Street on Thursday
Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft parked at Boeing Field in Seattle. American Airlines said it will resume using the jets in December, with United following in the first quarter of 2021
Relatives are seen above in March 2019 at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 on board. Loved ones of passengers on both crashes, some of whom are suing Boeing, have criticized the decision to resume using the 737 MAX
A monument for the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 Boeing 737 MAX plane crash is seen during a memorial ceremony at the French Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
‘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,’ Boeing CEO David Calhoun said in a statement.
‘We have implemented a series of meaningful changes to strengthen the safety practices and culture of our company,’ he shared with employees in a letter.
Boeing’s tarnished reputation, coupled with the ongoing pandemic, led many buyers to cancel their orders of the 737 MAX.
At one point during the grounding, there were so many unclaimed planes that the jets were just parked in an employee parking lot at a Boeing factory in Washington state, next to workers’ sedans and minivans.
American Airlines said it will resume using the 737 Max in December, with United following in the first quarter of 2021 and Southwest Airlines in the second quarter.
The EU gave the thumbs up to the 737 Max in October.
But crash victims’ family members have protested the return to service, saying it is premature before a final investigative report on the second crash in Ethiopia has been released.
Boeing toned down its original plans for the plane’s return as the crisis dragged on longer than it expected – scrapping a high-profile publicity campaign, a ceremony in the Seattle area and a tour using an Oman Air 737 MAX, industry sources said.
United Airlines is expected to receive the first Max delivery since the grounding, a person familiar with the matter said.
BOEING’S 737 MAX: WHAT WENT WRONG
OCT. 29, 2018 – A Lion Air 737 MAX plane crashes in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board
NOV. 13, 2018 – FAA, Boeing say they are evaluating the need for software or design changes to 737 MAX jets following the Lion Air crash
NOV. 30, 2018 – Boeing is weighing plans to launch a software upgrade for its 737 MAX in six to eight weeks that would help address a scenario faced by crew of Indonesia’s Lion Air, sources told Reuters
MARCH 10, 2019 – An Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashes, killing all 157 people on board
MARCH 12, 2019 – FAA says will mandate that Boeing implement design changes on the 737 MAX by April that have been in the works for months
MARCH 13, 2019 – FAA joins other major global regulators in grounding the 737 MAX, citing evidence of similarities between the two fatal crashes
APRIL 6, 2019 – Boeing says it will cut monthly 737 MAX production by nearly 20%; U.S. and airline officials say they believe the plane could be grounded for at least two months
MAY 16, 2019 – Boeing says it has completed a software update for its 737 MAX jets and is in the process of submitting a pilot training plan to the FAA
JUNE 27, 2019 – Boeing says it will take until at least September to fix a newly identified problem with software that emerged when FAA test pilots were reviewing potential failure scenarios of the flight control computer in a 737 MAX simulator
JULY 18, 2019 – Boeing says it has assumed regulatory approval of the 737 MAX’s return to service in the United States and other jurisdictions will begin early in the fourth quarter
OCT. 24, 2019 – Boeing says it still expects FAA approval to fly the 737 MAX in the fourth quarter, sending its shares higher despite a slump in quarterly profit. FAA says it will need “several weeks” for review
NOV. 7, 2019 – U.S. and European regulators ask Boeing to revise documentation on its proposed 737 MAX software fix
NOV. 11, 2019 – Boeing says it expects the FAA to issue an order approving the plane’s return to flight in December, forecasting commercial flights to resume in January
NOV. 15, 2019 – The head of the FAA tells his team to ‘take whatever time is needed’ in their review of the 737 MAX
DEC. 11, 2019 – FAA chief Steve Dickson says 737 MAX will not be cleared to fly before the end of 2019
DEC. 12, 2019 – Boeing abandons its goal of winning regulatory approval for the 737 MAX to resume flying in December after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the plane would not be cleared to fly before 2020
DEC. 23, 2019 – Boeing fires CEO Dennis Muilenburg
JAN. 6, 2020 – An audit conducted in December reveals that wiring in the tail of the 737 MAX could short circuit and lead to a crash if pilots don’t know how to respond correctly
JAN. 9, 2020 – Boeing releases hundreds of internal messages between employees to the Congress and the FAA last week, raising serious questions about its development of simulators and showing employees may have covered up issues
JAN. 13, 2020 – Budget airliner Ryanair reveals it could receive its first deliveries of up to 10 grounded 737 MAX aircraft from Boeing by April, but cautions this will depend on the regulators
JAN. 16, 2020 – Committee, appointed by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in April, finds the FAA safety approval process was not at fault
JAN. 21, 2020 – Boeing announces it does not expect federal regulators to approve its changes to the grounded 737 Max until this summer, several months longer than the company was saying just a few weeks ago.