After over a year and a half on the ground, the Boeing 737 MAX has finally received the green light for return to service.
The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) was the first to clear the aircraft for service in November of last year. Over a period of 20 months, FAA employees worked diligently to identify and address the safety issues that have affected the MAX; these are the same safety issues that played a significant role in the tragic loss of 346 lives, aboard Lion Air Flight 610 and then four months later aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Both accidents have been attributed to the MCAS system, which became active at the wrong time and caused the aircraft to enter a catastrophic dive.
Since the FAA cleared the aircraft to return to service, other aviation authorities like ANAC (Brazil), EASA (Europe), CAA (UK), TCCA (Canada) and more have also followed suit.
During the month of January Boeing delivered 26 planes, including 21 737 MAXs. More than 400 aircraft were built during the 20 month grounding period.
Who is Currently Flying the 737 MAX?
Since the clearance came through last year, the Boeing 737 MAX has already completed thousands of revenue flights with regular passengers onboard. According to FlightRadar24, around 3406 revenue flights were operated from 9th December 2020 to January 2021; in addition some 600 non-revenue flights have also been tracked, these include the likes of test and delivery flights.
After the clearance was given from aviation authorities, GOL was the first airline to fly the aircraft worldwide. The reintroduction occurred on 9th December with 6 simultaneous flights, all were operating on domestic routes. The majority of the GOL fleet is based in Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos airport.
FlightRadar24 stats show that, since the reintroduction, GOL has flown 1669 revenue flights with the MAX, up until the end of January.
According to the airline, before reintegrating the aircraft into its fleet, training was carried out for 140 pilots in the United States, in conjunction with Boeing, and a “rigorous series” of technical flights have been conducted.
American Airlines was the first US carrier and the 3rd worldwide to resume flights, they are currently operating domestic flights only. The first flight, AA718, was operated on 29th December between Miami and New York LaGuardia and had 87 passengers on board, it also returned to Miami at almost full capacity.
Up to the end of January, AA had operated 608 flights; with Miami being the major city to receive the plane. In the Caribbean, AA has sent their 737 MAX to Saint Thomas (STT), St Croix (STX) and San Juan (SJU); all of these flights were conducted out of Miami.
American Airlines currently has 40 737 MAX aircraft following the delivery of six more jets since the beginning of the year.
“From a safety perspective I can tell you at American that we don’t take delivery of a plane without putting it through its paces.”American Airlines’ president, Robert Isom
On the 1st of February, Air Canada resumed flights with the 737 MAX on routes between Toronto and Montreal, Halifax, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton. The airline has a fleet of 24 aircraft, 7 of which in use and additionally they have another 12 MAXs on order.
The first flight departed Montréal–Trudeau International Airport and landed at Toronto-Pearson, one hour and 32 minutes later. This flight was operated by a two-year-old 737 MAX-8, registered C-GEHY, the plane in question was stored at Marana Pinal Airpark from May 29th 2020 to 15th January 2021.
Air Canada also explained that they understand that some of their clients may not be comfortable, or lack confidence in, flying in the 737 MAX, so they have created special rebooking options. The flight may be changed by up to seven days before or after the initial date booked for the flight, for no extra charge; the passenger can also change the origin and/or destination to an alternate origin/destination within 200 miles. This can only be done for tickets issued with travel dates up to March 31st 2021, with changes or cancellations being allowed up to two hours departure.
“While we are fully confident in the return of the Boeing 737 Max, we understand that certain customers may prefer alternate travel options and we have therefore instituted flexible change and cancellation policies.”
The Mexican flag carrier was the second airline worldwide to operate revenue flights after the 20 month grounding. The first flight occurred on 18th December between Mexico City and Cancun, their most lucrative route in Mexico. In addition, flights to Guadalajara, Tijuana and Monterrey have been also added to their schedule.
Right now Aeromexico‘s fleet consists of 6 737 MAX-8s and 4 737 MAX-9s, with an order for an additional 4 737 MAX-8’s.
WestJet was the first Canadian airline to resume flights with the 737 MAX. Their first revenue flight happened on 21st January with a flight from Calgary to Vancouver, with 71 passengers on board including their President and CEO Ed Sims. The flight had a duration of 1 hour and was operated by a 737 MAX-8, with registration C-FHCM.
WestJet currently have a fleet of 14 737 MAX-8s with 5 in service and the rest still parked.
“For nearly two years, ALPA has been working tirelessly with Transport Canada, international regulators and airline management on reviewing the MAX, and the revised pilot training requirements needed, to safely return this aircraft to service.”
On the same day that American Airlines resumed their flights, Copa Airlines also reinstated their 737 MAX back into service. Flight CM806 departed Panama City for the 1 hour flight to San Jose, Costa Rica, operated by a 2 year old 737 MAX-9 with registration HP-9906CMP.
Right now, Copa Airlines is the only airline to operate an international flight with this type of aircraft. Currently Copa has a fleet of 10 737 MAXs with an additional 3 on order.
“Despite that we operated a commercial flight to San José yesterday, and another one today, we keep January 4th as the resumption date for our 737 MAX-9 fleet. [From that date] It will start operating continuously, focusing on further away destinations such as San Francisco and Los Angeles in the US, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Montevideo in Uruguay among others.”
“As a pilot, I feel very proud to fly one of the most efficient, modern, greener and safer airplanes in the world again. Our pilots, technicians and staff are ready to fly and we recognize the detailed work done by AFAC to guarantee the safe operation.”Pablo Aram Aznaruvian, vice-president of Flight Operations
On 11th February the 737 MAX returned to service with United Airlines, operating flight UA1864 from Denver to Houston. This flight was operated by a 737 MAX-9, registration N37523, that was delivered last December.
On the first day, United operated 24 domestic flights with the MAX; they have another 550 flights scheduled for this month and about 2,000 for March. Currently the Chicago-based airline has a fleet of 30 B737 MAX-9s, with 15 of them still parked; they also have orders for 11 B737 MAX-8s and 5 B737 MAX-10s.
“United is working to implement the recommendations and directives from independent regulators, including FAA-mandated changes to the flight software, additional pilot training and multiple test flights for each aircraft to ensure the planes are ready to fly. After these changes are made, each United MAX aircraft will be individually evaluated by our skilled pilots and aircraft technicians before they return to service.”United Airlines Statment
TUI Belgium was the first airline to perform a revenue flight with the 737 MAX in Europe. This flight happened last Wednesday 17th from Brussels to Malaga, with a 3 year old aircraft registration OO-MAX. The airline has a fleet of 4 737 Max-8s, with 1 in service.
Today TUI UK performed their first flight test, with a view to re-entering the type back into service as soon as they are satisfied with its performance. The 2 year old aircraft, with registration G-TUMB, departed from Manchester for a 1 hour flight.
Which Airlines are Planning to Return Boeing 737 MAX to Service?
Alaska Airlines, who only recently took delivery of their first Boeing 737 MAX, will start MAX flights from March 1st, with daily roundtrip flights between Seattle and San Diego and Seattle and Los Angeles.
With their first order of 32 units in 2012, the North American company added 36 more jets to their order in 2020. They also have 52 options which, if fully exercised, would take the carrier to as many as 120 737 MAX airplanes.
“Before the MAX is added to our fleet, our team of pilots, maintenance technicians and safety experts are putting the plane through its paces; flying more than 19,000 miles and over 50 flight hours to test the aircraft. We’ve activated our training programs as we closely test, verify and implement all the necessary processes to ensure the MAX aircraft meets our high safety standards. At Alaska, safety is always priority number one. If an aircraft is not safe, we won’t fly it.”
According to the carrier’s chief executive, Tewolde Gebremariam, the African carrier Ethiopian Airlines is satisfied with the modifications that have been made to the flight-control system of the Boeing 737 MAX, stating that they may bring the type back into service in July.
“Our final decision is to continue with the airplane and to continue with our order … I would say that we may be able to start flying the airplane by summer.”
Southwest Airlines is planning on resuming their 737 MAX revenue service from March 11th with four flights scheduled to take off at the same time across the network.
According to The Points Guy, the first four flights will be: WL6008 Baltimore- New Orleans, WL6001 Denver to Chicago Midway, WL6028 Kansas City to Houston and WL6623 Orlando to Chicago Midway. The airline expects full MAX 8 operations during April 2021.
The Czech carrier Smartwings is set to become the second airline to operate the Boeing 737 MAX on a scheduled route in Europe, since it received the green light from the EASA.
According to Routes Online, Icelandair has also scheduled 13 routes from Reykjavík Keflavík to operate with the MAX aircraft from March 8th; this includes flights to Berlin (BER), New York Newark (EWR), London Gatwick (LGW) and Zurich (ZRH).
“It is great news that the 737 MAX has now been recertified as safe to fly, with a number of airlines already having taken them into operation. We plan to return the aircraft to service in the spring, following extensive updates and pilot training where safety is our priority.”Icelandair president and CEO Bogi Nils Bogason
Cover Photo by Gianfranco Abrusci