Boeing won approval on Wednesday from the US Federal Aviation Administration to fly its 737 MAX jet again after two fatal crashes that triggered two years of regulatory scrutiny and corporate upheaval.
The FAA detailed software upgrades and training changes Boeing must make in order for it to resume commercial flights after a 20-month grounding, the longest in commercial 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 U.S. leadership in global aviation and cost Boeing some $20 billion.
The U.S. planemaker’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 a re-engined upgrade of a jet first introduced in the 1960s. Single-aisle jets like the MAX and rival Airbus A320neo are workhorses that dominate global fleets and provide a major source of industry profit.
U.S. airlines with 737 MAX jets said on Wednesday they would complete the FAA’s maintenance and training requirement as they gradually return the plane to schedules that have been drastically reduced in the pandemic.
American Airlines plans to relaunch the first commercial MAX flight since the grounding on Dec. 29, followed by United Airlines in the first quarter of 2021 and Southwest Airlines in the second quarter.
Boeing shares were up 2.8% at $215.84, and shares of major U.S. airlines rose.
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 U.S.-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.
Families of the Ethiopian crash victims said in a statement they felt “sheer disappointment and renewed grief” following the FAA’s decision to return the aircraft to service.
“Our family was broken,” Naoise Ryan, whose 39-year-old husband died aboard Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, said on Tuesday.