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status of 737 MAX around the world American Airlines FAA

The status of the 737 MAX around the world

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UPDATE – December 28, 2021. The Indonesian Directorate General of Civil Aviation has lifted its ban on 737 MAX operations for Indonesian airlines and through Indonesian airspace. Airlines have begun the process of updating their aircraft and training their pilots.

UPDATE – December 2, 2021. 997 days after ground the 737 MAX, China’s civil aviation regulator issued an airworthiness directive paving the way for the aircraft to return to service within months. Pilots will still need to perform simulator training and airlines will need to complete the necessary changes to the aircraft as specified by Boeing.

UPDATE – November 18, 2021. South Korea has approved 737 MAX flights allowing Eastar Air to return its pair of 737-8s to service as of November 22, and take deliveries of others.

UPDATE – September 6, 2021. Singapore has now also approved 737 MAX flights. Singapore Airlines has absorbed the former Silk Air aircraft into its fleet.

UPDATE – September 2, 2021. Malaysia has lifted its grounding order, allowing the MAX to return to service there.

UPDATE – August 26, 2021. India has rescinded its ground order, clearing the way for SpiceJet to bring the MAX back into service.

UPDATE – April 14, 2021. A number of airlines have resumed flying the 737 MAX in recent days and weeks. LOT Polish and Enter Air started flying theirs in late March; UAE carrier flydubai brought back the aircraft on April 8; and Turkish Airlines is due to resume MAX flights tomorrow on TK2138 from Istanbul (IST) to Ankara (ESB).

UPDATE – March 1, 2021. The deputy director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China announced on March 1 that the regulator still has outstanding safety concerns about the 737 MAX and they continue to work with Boeing and the US FAA to address those. The CAAC says that the MAX will remain grounded in China until design modifications to the aircraft are certified, pilots are retrained, and the cause of the two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019 are clearly understood.

UPDATE – February 28, 2021. Saudi Arabia has lifted its ban on the 737 MAX. No Saudi airlines operate the MAX, but other airlines in the region will operate to Saudi destinations and overfly Saudi airspace with the aircraft.

UPDATE – February 26, 2021. Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority has lifted its ban on the 737 MAX. There are no Australian operators of the 737 MAX at this time, though foreign operators Silk Air (now Singapore Airlines) and Fiji Airways did operate to Australia prior to the grounding.

UPDATE – February 25, 2021. Smartwings became the second European airline to put the 737 MAX back into commercial service, starting with a flight from Prague to Malaga.

UPDATE – February 19, 2021. SCAT Airlines relaunched service its lone 737 MAX 8, becoming the first Asian airline to bring the aircraft back into service.

UPDATE – February 17, 2021. TUI’s 737 MAX-8 has been on the move today, making the first revenue flights in Europe since the recertification. Keep up with OO-MAX here.

UPDATE – January 27, 2021. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have now joined the US, Brazil and Canada in clearing the 737 MAX for flight.

UPDATE – January 18, 2021. Transport Canada has given the go-ahead for the 737 MAX to return to service in the country from Wednesday January 20, provided a set of additional modifications and tests have been made prior to flight.

UPDATE – December 9, 2020. Brazilian airline GOL has flown the world’s first revenue passenger flight with the 737 MAX since its grounding and subsequent re-certification.

The 737 MAX has now been cleared to fly by most of the world’s most important aviation safety regulators. The US, Brazil, Canada, Europe and the UK have now given it the green light. Not all requirements for re-entry into service are the same across the globe, with some agencies laying down tougher software change and training requirements than others. Full details below. The glaring exception to the progress for the 737 MAX remains China, which has not yet provided any guidance as to when the MAX will get the go-ahead there.

Southwest Airlines 737 MAX parked Victorville
Southwest Airlines has dozens of 737 MAX parked in the desert.

The fact that regulators around the world took additional time to carefully review the aircraft’s design changes and to mandate their own safety requirements beyond those of the FAA marks an important shift. It is a notable departure from the past, when a safety nod by the FAA would generally go unquestioned by regulators elsewhere. The FAA has long been seen as the gold standard of aviation oversight. Now, as a result of the 737 MAX saga, things are more complicated.

Europe is a go

Icelandair 737 MAX status of global groundings world EASA FAA

Europe’s aviation safety regulator EASA issued an updated Airworthiness Directive (AD) for the 737 MAX on January 27. The United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), now operating independently from (but still in close cooperation with) EASA, issued a similar ruling at around the same time. The 737 MAX is now cleared to fly across Europe and in the UK. On February 17, TUI’s OO-MAX, a 737 MAX-8, flew the first passengers in Europe since recertification.

Additional changes and training required for the return go beyond the requirements by the FAA in the US – following along similar lines as the directive issued by Transport Canada earlier this month. These requirements include (taken from the CAA news release):

  • Flight Control Computer (FCC) software changes, so that both of the aircraft’s Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor inputs are used by the aircraft systems (rather than previously one)
  • safeguards against MCAS activating unnecessarily, due to a failed or erroneous AoA sensor
  • removal of the MCAS repeat command
  • revised limits on the MCAS command authority
  • revisions to flight crew procedures and training requirements
  • implementation of an AoA ‘disagree’ alert indication that would appear on the pilots’ primary flight displays
  • cross FCC trim monitoring, to detect and shutdown erroneous pitch trim commands

Brazil follows the FAA

Brazil’s aviation regulator ANAC became the third regulatory body to approve the 737 MAX’s return to service. For its part, Brazil has opted to add no further requirements beyond the modifications and training guidelines mandated by the FAA.

In the intervening days Brazilian carrier GOL has raced to fulfill those requirements and get its MAX flying commercial flights again in record speed. On December 9, flight G34104 from Sao Paulo (GRU) to Porto Alegre (POA) departed and arrived uneventfully, quietly and on time. No special announcements went out about the milestone first flight back for the MAX.

GOL 737 MAX certification grounding
Brazilian airline GOL is eager to get its 737 MAX back in the air

Canada gives the go-ahead

Transport Canada has announced that the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) prohibiting the operation of the 737 MAX in Canadian airspace will be lifted as of January 20. Airlines can begin to fly the MAX in Canada provided they have met additional conditions set forth by Canada, which the agency describes as “unique Canadian measures to further enhance the safety of the aircraft.” Among those: Canadian airline pilots operating the MAX will need to have undergone additional training. It must also be made possible to disable a warning system in the flight deck that is said to have caused confusion and distraction in the two MAX crashes. An angle of attack “disagree” alert must also be installed. The full details are in Transport Canada’s latest Airworthiness Directive (AD) concerning the plane.

WestJet was the first to fly its MAX in Canada. Air Canada followed shortly after.

What about China?

The million dollar question is: what is China going to do, and when? This is more complicated because of US-China tensions and many fear the MAX could become a pawn in political maneuvering between the two. And China has recently indicated that it is not in any hurry to re-certify the plane. There are just under 300 737 MAX currently allocated to Chinese carriers, including aircraft on order and not yet delivered. Note that China was the first nation to ground the 737 MAX after the second crash that eventually led to its worldwide grounding. So this carries extra weight both in China and internationally. It should be an interesting one to watch – and it may drag on.

China regulators CAAC 737 MAX grounding certification approval FAA

The 737 MAX has an uphill battle ahead

The 737 MAX has been cleared to fly by many regulators already. However the additional requirements by EASA and likely others to come from other the major regulators will add complexity, and don’t exactly sound like a vote of confidence in the FAA and Boeing. No doubt these additional requirements are out of an extreme abundance of caution. No regulator can afford to slip up here.

It’s clear now that the MAX will return. It will no doubt end up flying globally again. As many have pointed out it will be the most scrutinized plane in the sky when it does. That should mean a very safe airplane. But between the varying regulatory requirements across the world and the still daunting public relations task of getting passengers to feel comfortable with the plane again, it’s clear Boeing and the airlines operating the MAX have some work left to do.

Featured image © Bill Wang

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