Frankfurt, 27 January 2021 (dpa/MIA) – Boeing‘s crisis-ridden 737 MAX jet received the OK from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on Wednesday to return to the skies, after being grounded for nearly two years.
Planned technical improvements to hardware and software, as well as additional pilot training were enough to meet flight safety requirements, said the agency based in the German city of Cologne.
The 737 MAX has already received approval in Boeing‘s home country, the United States, as well as Brazil and Canada.
“We have reached a significant milestone on a long road,” said EASA executive director Patrick Ky.
He stressed the regulator’s “full independence” from industry or political actors in giving the go-ahead. “We asked difficult questions until we got answers and pushed for solutions which satisfied our exacting safety requirements,” Ky said in a statement.
Before a jet of this type can take off in Europe again, technicians must first have carried out the necessary modifications to the planes, and pilots must have completed the required training.
The fleet of medium-haul jets was grounded in March 2019 after two 737 MAX crashes due to faulty software, in which 346 people died.
The first of the two crashes occurred shortly after take-off from Jakarta on October 29, 2018, and killed all 189 people on board.
The second occurred in March the following year, shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa. That crash killed all 157 people on board.
In both cases, a sensor provided incorrect data to the software, prompting the nose to dive. Pilots were unable to override the automatic settings.
The new version of the software is to be fed data from two sensors.
“We have every confidence that the aircraft is safe, which is the precondition for giving our approval. But we will continue to monitor 737 MAX operations closely as the aircraft resumes service,” Ky said.
EASA had also demanded the installation of a third sensor, known as a synthetic sensor, which is yet to be developed.
In the long version of the jet series, the 737 MAX 10, which has not yet been certified, this is to be mandatory from the outset. In other models, it is to be retrofitted at a later date.
German travel giant Tui welcomed the EASA decision but said it was not possible to say when its own 737 MAX planes would be back in operation due to ongoing uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The company noted that “all conditions for a safe and successful resumption of operations are met” but said further preparations were necessary. “At our foreign airlines, we are in the final phase of implementing all the required modifications and updates, and training the pilots on the changes,” Tui said.
Tui’s airlines, which are mainly used in conjunction with the travel operator’s cruises and package holidays, previously had 15 737 MAX models in their active fleets. The grounding of the Boeing series was costly for Tui, which had to lease replacement planes as a result.
Tui initially ordered over 70 737 MAX planes up to 2023 but was able to agree with Boeing in June to reduce the order by more than half.
In addition, Tui got an extension on the timeframe and received compensation for financial burdens incurred.