American Airlines flew paying passengers on board a Boeing 737 Max on Tuesday, marking the first flight of the plane in U.S. skies in nearly two years after it was grounded following two deadly crashes.
American flight 718 left Miami International Airport with about 100 passengers, according to an airline spokeswoman, and was scheduled to land Tuesday afternoon at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration approved changes that Boeing made to an automated flight-control system implicated in crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people in all. In both crashes, the system pushed the nose down repeatedly based on faulty sensor readings, and pilots were unable to regain control.
The FAA cleared the way for U.S. airlines to resume using the plane if certain changes are made and pilots are provided with additional training including time in a flight simulator.
Brazil’s Gol airlines operated the first passenger flight with a revamped Max on Dec. 9. Since then, Gol and Aeromexico have operated about 600 flights between them with Max jets, according to tracking service Flightradar24 and aviation-data firm Cirium.
American plans to make one round trip a day between Miami and New York with Max jets through Jan. 4 before putting the plane on more routes. United Airlines plans to resume Max flights in February, and Southwest Airlines expects to follow in March.
All three airlines say they will give customers the chance to change flights if they are uncomfortable flying on the Max.
The Max was grounded worldwide in March 2019, days after the second crash. Reports by House and Senate committees faulted Boeing and the FAA for failures in the process of certifying the plane. Congressional investigators uncovered internal Boeing documents in which company employees raised safety concerns and bragged about deceiving regulators.
FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson, a former military and airline pilot, operated a test flight in September and vouched for the reworked plane’s safety, saying he would put his family on it. American Airlines President Robert Isom was on Tuesday’s inaugural U.S. flight, according to the airline.
Some relatives of people who died in the second crash, a Max operated by Ethiopian Airlines, contend that the plane is still unsafe. They and their lawyers say that Boeing is refusing to hand over documents about the plane’s design and development.
“The truth is that 346 people are now dead because Boeing cut corners, lied to regulators, and simply considers this the cost of doing business,” Yalena Lopez-Lewis, whose husband died in the crash, said in a statement issued by her lawyers. “It is infuriating that American Airlines is in effect rewarding Boeing for the corrupt and catastrophic process that led to the Max.”
Zipporah Kuria, a British citizen whose father also died in the Ethiopian crash, pointed to the recent disclosure in a Senate committee report that Boeing representatives coached FAA test pilots reviewing Boeing updates to the Max flight-control system.
“Boeing leadership is still riddled with deceit. Their priorities are not on consumer safety,” she said in an interview.
The return of the plane to U.S. skies is a huge boost for Boeing, which has lost billions during the Max grounding because it has been unable to deliver new planes to airline customers. Orders for the plane have plunged. Boeing has removed more than 1,000 Max jets from its backlog because airlines canceled orders or the sales are not certain to go through because of the pandemic crisis gripping the travel industry.