The Federal Aviation Administration has officially cleared the way for the Boeing 737 MAX to return to the sky, as the agency re-certified the troubled aircraft almost two years after it was grounded following two fatal crashes.
Boeing CEO David Calhoun said it was less a day for celebration as it was for remembrance.
"We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations," Calhoun said in a statement released Wednesday morning . "These events and the lessons we have learned as a result have reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity."
The 737 MAX suffered two horrific accidents within a span of five months when a Lion Air flight crashed in October of 2018 in Indonesia, and an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed in March of 2019. Some 346 passengers and crew were killed, and the plane was grounded worldwide after the second incident.
Initially, investigators found a software issue that put the 737 MAX into a fatal nosedive instead of responding as it should, which was to slowly keep the plane steady to prevent the pilot from mistakenly pulling up and causing the plane to stall.
But in the course of investigating the issue, which Boeing thought would only take months, a report from the House of Representatives blamed the plane manufacturer and the FAA for “repeated and serious failures” and saying the crashes “were the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA — the pernicious result of regulatory capture on the part of the FAA with respect to its responsibilities to perform robust oversight of Boeing and to ensure the safety of the flying public.”
But FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines pilot, tested the 737 MAX himself and professed his confidence.
“I would put my own family on (the MAX),” Dickson said. “I understand the concerns. This is the time for humility.”
Boeing still has two major issues to overcome with the plane, however.
One, who is going to use and purchase the MAX, which is the company’s best-selling plane. Boeing is having a problem with the backlog of planes that have been built but not sold.
Perhaps more importantly, is the general public ready to get back on the aircraft?
"A lot of families may be reluctant to fly the Max when it is approved to fly," Erik Olund, who runs the American Airlines maintenance base in Tulsa, Oklahoma, told NBC News. "My family will fly on the airplane before the general public does. … I'll have no problem getting on this airplane when we get it restored to service."
There certainly will be some trepidation on the part of fliers, to the point where American Airlines offered tours of the 737 MAX and conference calls so the public could talk with pilots for some reassurance.