The Boeing 737 MAX took another big step towards commercial service Wednesday after American Airlines completed a test flight with journalists as the airline industry seeks to reassure the public following a 20-month grounding of the jet.
The promotional flight departed near from Dallas and landed and landed about 50 minutes later in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after encountering some turbulence along the way.
In Tulsa, American’s teams of mechanics, technicians and engineers outlined their processes for readying and upgrading the jets following the lengthy grounding.
Pilots were also on hand to explain new training protocols required by federal air safety officials.
The Boeing 737 MAX took another big step towards commercial service Wednesday after American Airlines completed a test flight with journalists as the airline industry seeks to reassure the public following a 20-month grounding of the jet
The promotional flight departed near from Dallas and landed and landed about 50 minutes later in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after encountering some turbulence along the way
The MAX had been a cash cow for Boeing prior to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes that together claimed 346 lives.
Those calamities plunged the aerospace giant into a crisis worsened by the coronavirus and its devastating impact on commercial air travel.
After the lengthy grounding following two deadly crashes, the US Federal Aviation Administration in mid-November cleared the MAX to return to service following upgrades to the plane and pilot training protocols.
The software function, which was the main safety upgrade, operates in unusual flight conditions only and now relies on two sensors, activates only once and never overrides pilots’ ability to control the airplane
Brazilian authorities have also okayed the MAX to fly again, while European officials are expected to approve the MAX’s return by the end of January 2021. China remains the main mystery as far as when it expects the MAX to fly again.
American Airlines plans an initial commercial flight on December 29.
The carrier is undertaking a charm offensive to reassure consumers the jet is safe. On Tuesday, American’s chief executive, Doug Parker, along with his wife, took a flight on a MAX.
Three more test flights with employees are planned before the first commercial flight, an American spokesperson told AFP.
FAA chief Steve Dickson described the process for recertifying the jet as exhaustive when he officially approved the jet’s return. Dickson himself piloted a test flight and said last month he was ‘100 percent comfortable’ with having his family fly in the jet.
In Tulsa, American’s teams of mechanics, technicians and engineers outlined their processes for readying and upgrading the jets following the lengthy grounding. Pilots were also on hand to explain new training protocols required by federal air safety officials
After the lengthy grounding following two deadly crashes, the US Federal Aviation Administration in mid-November cleared the MAX to return to service following upgrades to the plane and pilot training protocols
The MAX had been a cash cow for Boeing prior to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes that together claimed 346 lives
Investigations identified a principal cause of the two crashes as a faulty flight handling system that was supposed to keep the plane from stalling as it ascended but instead forced the nose of the plane downward. The FAA required Boeing to upgrade the software connected to this system to address the flaw.
Boeing also plans to establish an operations center to monitor MAX flights in real time.
But those efforts are not enough for families of victims of the crashes, who dismissed the American Airlines flight as a ‘media stunt,’ according to Clifford Law Offices, which is representing the relatives in litigation against Boeing.
‘The promotional flight is arranged by the American Airlines marketing team simply because the company made the mistake of buying more MAX aircraft than almost any other airline,’ said Michael Stumo, whose daughter died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
‘Passengers should avoid this aircraft because others are safer.’
With 24 MAX planes in its fleet, American Airlines has the second-largest number of planes, after Southwest Airlines with 34.
Members of the media board a Boeing 737 Max airplane on the tarmac at Dallas Fort Worth Airport before the flight
Members of the media record the Captain’s message before departure aboard a Boeing 737 Max airplane before the flight
Three more test flights with employees are planned before the first commercial flight
Mechanics watch a presentation about the Boeing 737 Max airplane in a maintenance hanger in Tulsa, Oklahoma
A worker speaks to a man who loads new software into the Boeing 737 Max airplane in a maintenance hanger in Tulsa
A landing gear from a Boeing 737 Max airplane is pictured in a hanger in Tulsa
Customers canceled hundreds of orders for the MAX this year, but Boeing could see a rebound in interest should the plane again win regulatory approval.
Ryanair and Boeing could announce Thursday additional orders, according to industrial sources who asked not to be identified.
The two companies declined comment.
Shares of Boeing rose more than five percent on Wednesday, making it the biggest gainer in the Dow index.
WAS IT A SAFE TRIP? JOURNALIST DESCRIBES TRIP ON BOARD THE BOEING 737
Will this plane land safely?
That question was very much on the minds of the 87 passengers on the revamped Boeing 737 MAX’s first public flight Wednesday following a 20-month grounding after two fatal crashes.
US authorities last month gave the green light for the plane to return to service after upgrades in the wake of the two calamities that killed 346 people.
Wednesday’s promotional American Airlines voyage between Dallas, Texas and Tulsa, Oklahoma was intended to reassure the public before American resumes commercial service on the jet on December 29.
The trip began with American flight attendants reviewing security procedures before distributing bottled water.
As he welcomed passengers, pilot Pete Gamble testified to the plane’s safety and reliability.
‘The systems changes, the scrutiny the airplanes are going through, plus the training that we’ve enforced, has really brought back the confidence level,’ Gamble said.
‘It needed to go through the scrutiny. It did.’
Before flying the MAX, each American pilot is required to undertake a two-hour training course on a computer tablet, followed by an hour of flight simulator training, followed then by two hours with a colleague when pilots react to different flying scenarios.
Aside from some turbulence along the way, Wednesday’s 50-minute flight to Tulsa proceeded uneventfully.
Throughout, passengers donning face masks because of the coronavirus and separated by a seat due to social distancing betrayed no obvious anxiety.
The everyday passenger not steeped in aviation will see no obvious markers of the MAX. The seats give only the numbers 737, though the wheel labels the jet as a ’73-8x.’
American has said that all customers who buy tickets on the plane will be notified of flights employing the MAX. The carrier will provide alternative trips to passengers who don’t want to fly on the plane.
‘Safety is our number one priority,’ said American Chief Operating Officer David Seymour. ‘There are no exceptions.’
– Strict regimen –
In Tulsa, Roger Steele, a 34-year veteran at American Airlines, is overseeing the process of readying the jets so they can return to the skies.
Steele said he has always loved the Boeing 737 MAX and was present when the giant US carrier received its first MAX jets.
All the jets must go through four days of intense work before being cleared for service.
Teams work 24 hours a day at a warehouse on two planes at a time to check the pressure on the tires, the hydraulic systems, the motors and other plane parts.
Staff also update plane software systems in the cockpit and modify plane cables.
All of these steps are mandated by the US Federal Aviation Administration, which last month authorized the plane to return to service under strict protocols.
‘We started the very same day,’ Steele said.
Around 20 MAX planes have already been cleared for the tarmac.
Maintenance crews were on hand ‘to make sure that this aircraft is ready for your family, for my family, all of our loved ones, to get on board,’ said Erik Olund, who manages base maintenance.
Staff people check the humidity in the plane’s fuel tanks and install pillows in the motors to prevent animals from getting in.
Pilots repeat the mantra: There is no risk to flying on the 737 MAX.
The MAX’ first commercial flight in 20 months is scheduled for Miami and New York on December 29.