The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said on Wednesday (27 January) that it had cleared the Boeing 737 MAX to fly again in European skies, 22 months after the plane was grounded following two fatal crashes.
“Following extensive analysis by EASA, we have determined that the 737 MAX can safely return to service,” EASA director Patrick Ky said in a statement.
“This assessment was carried out in full independence of Boeing or the (American) Federal Aviation Administration and without any economic or political pressure,” the agency added.
Last September, EASA also performed its own test flights on the MAX in Canada, as part of a recertification process on the grounded planes, which have not flown since March 2019, after two crashes that together killed 346 people — the 2018 Lion Air disaster in Indonesia and an Ethiopian Airlines crash the following year.
Investigators said the main cause of both crashes was a faulty flight handling system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.
Meant to keep the plane from stalling as it ascends, the automated system instead forced the nose of the plane downward.
Ky said that EASA would “continue to monitor 737 MAX operations closely” as the aircraft moves back into service.
All pilots scheduled to fly a Boeing 737 MAX must now complete extra training in a MAX flight simulator.
The training requirement was welcomed by the European Cockpit Association (ECA), the body representing pilots across Europe.
“One fundamentally wrong – and eventually fatal – idea had influenced the initial aircraft design and certification process: that pilot training is a burden, a cost, instead of being seen as an investment. It was important that the re-certification corrects this,” said Tanja Harter, ECA Technical Affairs Director.
On Monday (25 January), MEPs questioned the EASA head on the recertification of the 737 MAX, raising concerns about the agency’s past reliance on the Federal Aviation Administration for safety reviews.
The US aviation regulator faced widespread criticism for its certification practices in light of the deadly 737 MAX crashes.
Ky assured MEPs that EASA would take a more independent approach to carrying out safety assessments in the future.
“It will be a great effort, but more reassuring for European citizens,” he said.
Despite the fresh all-clear for the 737 MAX, it is impossible to tell how many airlines will put them back into service, and how fast, given the slump in air travel demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions across Europe.
Both Boeing and European rival Airbus are struggling to ride out the pandemic-related downturn. Airlines continue to cancel MAX orders, while Airbus has warned that more job cuts might be required given the slower-than-expected recovery.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]