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Boeing 737 Max Aircraft That Killed 346 People Given Green Light to Fly Again by FAA

Boeing 737 Max airplanes sit parked at the company’s Renton production facility on November 13, 2020 in Renton, Washington.
Boeing 737 Max airplanes sit parked at the company’s Renton production facility on November 13, 2020 in Renton, Washington.
Photo: David Ryder (Getty Images)

The Boeing 737 Max aircraft has been approved to fly again by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, according to a press release by Boeing and a statement from the FAA. The 737 Max was the model of plane that crashed in 2018, killing 189 in Indonesia, and again in 2019, killing 157 in Ethiopia. The aircraft was grounded worldwide on March 13, 2019, after the U.S. finally pulled the plane from service following the lead of every other nation that operated the aircraft.

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“FAA Administrator Steve Dickson today signed an order that paves the way for the Boeing 737 MAX to return to commercial service,” an FAA spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

“Administrator Dickson’s action followed a comprehensive and methodical safety review process that took 20 months to complete. During that time, FAA employees worked diligently to identify and address the safety issues that played a role in the tragic loss of 346 lives aboard Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302,” the FAA statement continues.

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“Throughout our transparent process, we cooperated closely with our foreign counterparts on every aspect of the return to service. Additionally, Administrator Dickson personally took the recommended pilot training and piloted the Boeing 737 MAX, so he could experience the handling of the aircraft firsthand.”

The FAA also released a statement on YouTube explaining the decision to “unground” the 737 Max.

Boeing made sure to put the lives of those lost front-and-center in its statement announcing the aircraft’s return to service.

“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” David Calhoun, CEO of Boeing, said in a statement. “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.”

Boeing reportedly floated the idea of renaming the 737 Max back in mid-2019, but there’s no word yet on any plans to do that. Some airlines started to allow passengers to filter out the 737 Max when searching for flights following the March 2019 crash in Ethiopia.

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The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a report in September that found the failures of the 737 Max aircraft weren’t due to a single issue and pointed to systematic problems at both Boeing and the FAA from the design stage all the way to production and testing.

“The MAX crashes were not the result of a singular failure, technical mistake, or mismanaged event,” the government report reads. “They 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.”

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Boeing emails released to Congress revealed that some employees were even talking shit about the aircraft and its approval process. One email from a Boeing employee in April 2017 read, “this airplane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.”

Boeing’s latest statement hopes to reassure potential passengers that the 737 Max is completely safe:

Throughout the past 20 months, Boeing has worked closely with airlines, providing them with detailed recommendations regarding long-term storage and ensuring their input was part of the effort to safely return the airplanes to service.

An Airworthiness Directive issued by the FAA spells out the requirements that must be met before U.S. carriers can resume service, including installing software enhancements, completing wire separation modifications, conducting pilot training and accomplishing thorough de-preservation activities that will ensure the airplanes are ready for service.

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But just because U.S. regulators have approved the 737 Max to fly doesn’t mean other countries will immediately follow suit. And Boeing seems to recognize that.

“The FAA’s directive is an important milestone,” Stan Deal, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a statement Wednesday. “We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide.”

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Even if you trust the Boeing 737 Max, it’s not a very safe time to fly right now. There’s a pandemic going on and the U.S. is ground zero, with over 11 million reported covid-19 cases and over 248,000 deaths since the pandemic began. At least 1,565 Americans died of the disease on Tuesday alone, and hospitals are becoming overwhelmed. Experts believe the U.S. could see 2,000 deaths per day from covid-19 by Christmas.

Even if airplanes are well-filtered, as the airlines tell are us they are, there are a lot of ways to get exposed to the air of others at any part of your journey. If you don’t absolutely need to fly right now, don’t.

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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