MIAMI – The Boeing 737 Max’s first commercial US flight in two fatal crashes resulted in the aircraft landing around the world on Tuesday in March 2019.
American Airlines Flight 718 took off from Miami International Airport at around 10:40 a.m. for New York’s LaGuardia Airport, where it landed at 1:08 p.m. a little earlier than planned.
“We’re flying a Boeing 737 Max,” announced Captain Sean Roskey over the plane’s PA system before the plane was pushed back from the gate in Miami to applause from passengers including the President of American Airlines, some commuters and others belonged to other employees. “I have the greatest confidence in this aircraft. In fact, my wife is on board.” The mother of Moraima Maldonado, the first officer, was also on board.
The 172-seat aircraft had 87 passengers on board, said an American Airlines spokeswoman. The Max flight back to Miami late Tuesday was almost full, she said. The flight to New York was uneventful, even though the WiFi service was not available for the first half hour.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline offers a round-trip flight between the two airports once a day and plans to increase service to other cities in the coming weeks. Between mid-February and early March, up to 91 flights per day are offered.
United Airlines plans to launch Max flights on February 11th from its Denver and Houston hubs. Southwest Airlines expects Max’s flights to resume in March.
Brazilian airline Gol, which operates an all-Boeing 737 fleet, was the first airline to restart the jets earlier this month. The planes, which are more fuel efficient than previous models, are at the center of the plans of airlines around the world, of which over 3,000 are on order.
The milestone flights began a little over a month since the Federal Aviation Administration released the Max again. This ended the largest foundation in the history of aviation and several safety-relevant changes that Boeing had made to the aircraft, its bestseller.
The pilots of both crashes – Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in Ethiopia in March 2019 – fought an automated flight control system that was falsely activated. All 346 people on the two flights were killed. Changes included making the flight control system less aggressive, providing more redundancy, and providing additional pilot training that included a session in a flight simulator
“I think what happened to the Max has increased the intensity for which we all have to pay attention to safety,” US President Robert Isom told reporters before the flight. “For safety reasons, I can tell you at American that we won’t accept an aircraft without putting it through its paces.”
Around 1,400 of American Airlines’ 2,700 Boeing 737 pilots were trained on the Max, said Alan Johnson, senior manager of fleet training and standards at American Airlines. American Airlines is in the process of recalling 1,000 additional 737 pilots on leave under billions as additional government aid to the warring industry. They’re all trained on the Max, Johnson said.
Damn post-crash investigations uncovered issues with the aircraft’s development, design, and certification by US regulatory agencies, and tarnished the reputation of Boeing and the FAA, which have long been the gold standard for aviation safety. The crashes also led to new laws tightening the FAA’s oversight of aircraft certification.
Family members of several victims have urged regulators in the US and abroad not to lift their bans on the jets, which the planes are considered unsafe. “Public trust is a deserved privilege, not a claim,” said Zipporah Kuria, whose father was killed on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019.
American and other airlines that operate the Max have stated that customers who have booked on the plane and are uncomfortable on the plane can switch flights without paying a fee when options are available.
The airline failed to notice passengers asking to switch from flying 737 Max planes to other planes, Isom said.
In a further step, which is intended to increase transparency, the American announcements made by the gate agents changed on December 21st to include the aircraft type in the entire network.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told CNBC last month that he was “100% confident” on the jets and that repeating the scenarios that led to the two crashes was “impossible”. Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines pilot, flew the plane himself in September.
Airline executives recently flew on the planes to increase public confidence.
Analysts expect a high level of control over the jets when they return to commercial fleets. An Air Canada 737 Max brought to Montreal from a warehouse in Marana, Arizona with no passengers on board was diverted to Tucson, Arizona last week after pilots received an engine warning. Boeing has set up a special team to monitor 737 Max flights around the world around the clock, said a manufacturer’s spokesman who was on the flight.
“The truth is that whenever there is a problem with the 737, even if it is a coffee maker, it will be news,” said Henry Harteveldt, former airline manager and president of the Atmosphere Research Group, one Travel advisory company. He said that while some travelers might opt for other aircraft at first if there aren’t any major issues, “it is just viewed as a different aircraft”.
American Airlines Flight 718, the first US Boeing 737 MAX commercial flight since regulators lifted a 20-month primer in November, will take off from Miami, Florida on December 29, 2020.
Marco Bello | Reuters
The plane is returning to a dismal air travel market due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Airlines cut capacity this year, in stark contrast to 2019 when they called for the jets to return to meet passenger demand.
“In some ways, the best thing for the 737 Max was that it took them 20 months to get the planes back in service, and for almost a year now we’ve had news about the coronavirus, which has drawn more attention than travel the 737 Max, “said Harteveldt.
The airlines and Boeing hope that most passengers will remain unimpressed.
“Schedule and price, that’s the most important thing,” said Honey Torrealba, a 26-year-old social media manager from San Antonio who flew to New York on Max Tuesday.
American ordered 76 aircraft and had 24 in its fleet at the time of landing. The pandemic and lengthy landing had caused airlines to cancel or postpone hundreds of orders, causing Boeing to lose $ 3.5 billion this year. The pandemic and grounding have hit jetliner prices too, and some airlines have recognized a buying opportunity. Alaska Airlines, for example, increased its order for 45 aircraft by 23 last week, which is a big bet on the Max. Earlier this month, European low-cost airline Ryanair added 75 Max jets to its 135 aircraft order.
Boeing’s stock closed less than 0.1% at $ 216.25 while American Airlines’ shares fell 1.3% to end at $ 15.86. Despite a recent rally this quarter sparked by the emergency approval of two vaccines, Boeing stocks are still down 34% this year and Americans are down nearly 45%.