An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft takes off on a test flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas on December 2, 2020.
Cooper Neill | AFP | Getty Images
MIAMI – American Airlines will operate the first commercial U.S. flight of the Boeing 737 Max on Tuesday since two fatal crashes in March 2019 resulted in the aircraft landing around the world.
American Airlines Flight 718 is expected to depart Miami International Airport for New York’s LaGuardia Airport at 10:30 am CET.
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. United Airlines plans to launch Max flights on February 11th from its Denver and Houston hubs. Southwest Airlines has announced that it will begin flying its aircraft in the second quarter.
Brazilian airline Gol, which operates an all-Boeing 737 fleet, was the first airline to restart the jets earlier this month. More fuel efficient than previous models, the planes are at the center of plans for airlines around the world, with more than 3,000 on order.
The milestone flights come after the largest landing in US aviation history ended just over a month ago, after the Federal Aviation Administration released the Max again and made several safety changes to Boeing, the bestselling aircraft.
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 performing more robust pilot training that included time in a flight simulator.
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.
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. American Airlines has not registered any travelers who have booked the jet on other flights, an airline spokeswoman said.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told CNBC last month that he was “100% confident” about 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 great deal 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.
“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 some travelers might opt for other aircraft at first, but if there are no major issues, “it will just be viewed as a different aircraft”.
The plane is returning to a dismal air travel market due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Airlines cut capacity this year, a 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.
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. This has hit the prices for the jetliners as well 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.