Boeing 737 MAX safe to return to skies, European regulator says

Emma Beaumont
·2-min read
The 737 Max has been cleared to return to Europe's skies - AFP
The 737 Max has been cleared to return to Europe's skies - AFP

Boeing’s beleaguered 737 MAX airliner is safe to return to service in Europe, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said today.

The aircraft, which only launched in 2017, has been grounded for almost two years following two crashes that resulted in 346 fatalities.

Lion Air Flight 610 crashed shortly after take-off from Jakarta in October 2018, while Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 came down in similar circumstances close to Addis Ababa airport the following March. A faulty flight-control system that forced down the nose of the plane was implicated in both accidents.

Patrick Ky, EASA Executive Director, said: “We have every confidence that the aircraft is safe, which is the precondition for giving our approval. But we will continue to monitor 737 MAX operations closely as the aircraft resumes service.

“In parallel, and at our insistence, Boeing has also committed to work to enhance the aircraft still further in the medium term, in order to reach an even higher level of safety.”

EASA has cited a number of safety improvements that mean the 737 Max is safe to fly again, including “a package of software upgrades, electrical working rework, maintenance checks, operations manual updates and crew training.”

In addition to software modifications, the regulator has stated that each plane must undergo a test flight with no passengers to check the upgrades work correctly.

The EU approval comes days after a former senior manager at Boeing's 737 plant in Seattle published a report that claimed the model was “still not fixed.” Ed Pierson stated that production quality problems at Boeing’s factory still need to be investigated. The company has rejected his claims.

For its part, EASA states that the safety assessment was carried out in "full independence of Boeing or the Federal Aviation Administration and without any economic or political pressure."

The regulator added: "We carried out our own flight tests and simulator sessions and did not rely on others to do this for us.”

Following Brexit, the aircraft will have to get the green light from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), before it can return to British skies. Some EU states will also have to remove their own grounding notices before airlines can put the planes back into service.

The jet was cleared to operate in the United States back in December, initially flying between Miami and New York. It has also been in operation on domestic routes in Brazil and has been given the go-ahead by regulators in Canada.

Boeing has received more than 4,000 orders in total for 737 MAX planes, with Europe’s biggest budget airline, Ryanair, expecting 135 (with an option for a further 75). The first are due to be delivered early this year.