The Boeing 737 Max has been cleared by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to return to the skies, nearly two years since the fleet was grounded globally following two fatal crashes.
[Update] The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has published a Proposed Airworthiness Directive for the Boeing 737 Max. While the aircraft’s return remains in consultation, EASA has said it believes the plane will be certified to fly in Europe in a matter of weeks.
The decision comes after a US congressional report into the crashes said that Boeing’s decision to ignore warnings over internal safety concerns, and a lack of guidance over required pilot training, contributed to the crash. It also criticised the lack of oversight from the FAA itself.
While the FAA is now ‘100% confident’ the plane is safe and it has been certified airworthy, it won’t return to the skies immediately. Design changes to wiring and software will need to be implemented, and further pilot training is required. The FAA, rather than Boeing, will also issue the airworthiness certificate for each plane in future.
What about the Boeing 737 Max in the UK?
The Boeing 737 Max remains grounded in the UK and Europe, but the FAA certification does take it closer to a return. It is EASA, rather than the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, that issues airworthiness certificates for the whole of the European Union, including the UK during the transition period. It has signalled that it is close to issuing an airworthiness directive, and expects the plane to be cleared to fly again in January.
If the EASA directive is issued after the UK’s transition period ends on January 1, and there is no-deal on Brexit the directive won’t be valid. Instead, the CAA would take on responsibility for issuing airworthiness certificates.
Relatively few airlines operating from the UK have ordered the 737 Max. The biggest that has is Ryanair, followed by Tui.
We asked both airlines what passengers can do if the plane does enter service and they don’t want to travel on it.
After two deadly crashes, the Boeing 737 has been cleared to fly again in the US by regulators.
But @WhichTravel want to know, would you be willing to fly on it?
— Which? (@WhichUK) November 18, 2020
What Ryanair says about the return of the 737 Max
Last month, Ryanair said it expects to use the aircraft ‘probably early next year’. It told Which?: ‘If Ryanair does start flying the Boeing 737 MAX in 2021, it will do so following the most extensive certification process ever conducted by the FAA, EASA and other international regulators.’
Which? asked Ryanair whether it would allow customers to amend fee-free to an alternate flight or route to avoid the aircraft, in the instance of the customer having already booked tickets on a route where the Boeing 737 Max is subsequently introduced. It said it wouldn’t. Nor would it alert customers making future bookings with Ryanair if the flight might be operated by a 737 Max.
It said: ‘It will be impossible for Ryanair to make clear to customers (who book on average 10 weeks in advance of travel) which flights any individual aircraft will operate given that – like all airlines – aircraft allocation decisions are only made the day before a flight departure.’
What Tui says about the return of the 737 Max
Tui also said it will only fly the 737 Max after EASA has approved it and when it ‘believes it is safe to do so’. It said that this wouldn’t happen this winter season.
It was positive about helping passengers avoid the 737 Max who are worried about flying on it. It told Which? that if a customer is due to fly on a 737 and would like to change ‘they will be allowed to move without an amendment fee’.
It said it was also taking steps to indicate to customers making future bookings if the flight may be operated by the 737 Max, saying: ‘Before we reintroduce the 737 MAX into our fleet we will be looking at the best way to inform customers and is our intention to do so.’
Lower carbon footprint of the Boeing 737 max
One of the main benefits of the 737 Max is that it has a lower carbon footprint than most rival aircraft, significantly so in some cases.
Which? has previously reported on how older, wide-bodied planes can contribute to increasing the carbon footprint of a flight by up to 50%.