The 737 Max will fly again in Europe, after regulators gave Boeing’s
bestselling aircraft the all-clear for takeoff following nearly two years on the tarmac.
The plane was grounded by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, or EASA, in March 2019 after two deadly crashes claimed 346 lives.
Approval from the EASA came with the mandate of a package of software upgrades, electrical work, maintenance checks, operations manual updates, and crew training.
“Following extensive analysis by EASA, we have determined that the 737 MAX can safely return to service,” said Patrick Ky, the regulator’s executive director.
“This assessment was carried out in full independence of Boeing or the Federal Aviation Administration and without any economic or political pressure,” Ky said. “We asked difficult questions until we got answers and pushed for solutions which satisfied our exacting safety requirements.”
Ky said that while the EASA has “every confidence that the aircraft is safe,” the regulator will continue to monitor the plane’s operations closely as it 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,” Ky said.
Regulatory approval in the EU was expected to come this week, and follows the clearance of the plane by the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, in the U.S. in November 2020.
The crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019 caused the plane to be grounded around the world and put a halt on manufacturing.
Defective flight-control software was thought to be at the root of the two crashes. U.S. government investigations later alleged that Boeing employees deceived regulators over the significance of the critical system and that pilots were improperly trained on it.
Ky told the BBC in late December 2020 that the regulator’s in-depth investigation went beyond the defective software and into the aircraft’s fundamental design.
Earlier this month, Boeing reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to settle a criminal charge related to a conspiracy to defraud the FAA, after the company admitted that employees misled the regulator.
As part of a three-year, $2.5 billion deferred prosecution agreement, the company will pay a fine of $243.6 million, compensate the families of those lost in the two crashes to the tune of $500 million, and provide $1.77 billion to Boeing’s airline customers who faced losses stemming from the grounding of the plane.