737 MAX: USA allows the aircraft back in the air
Suffering the longest jet grounding in the history of commercial aviation, the Federal Aviation Administration FAA) lifted its 20-month flight ban on the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on Thursday (AEDT) 19 November 2020.
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The 737 MAX suffered two devastating crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia in 2018 and 2019 resulting in the deaths of 346 people, and launching a storm of investigations into the safety of the aircraft. The grounding is believed to have cost Boeing some US$20 billion.
The ‘fix’ involving sensors, software and more pilot training that has made the 737 MAX the most studied plane not in the air! Whether passengers and airlines will be satisfied by the fix to the aircrafts tarnished reputation is another matter.
This is not the end of the saga, as various other aviation authorities including Australia, China and Europe will need to approve the aircraft for flight after its grounding. On top of that, airlines might not be as eager to fly the aircraft with its reputation so besmirched.
Back in February 2020, prior to the pandemic, Qantas was weighing up the various advantages of replacing its ageing 737-800 fleet with the MAX, or the competitions Airbus 320neo. Alan Joyce thought that there was a very good deal to be made with Boeing on the MAX given its degraded reputation. The question will be if the cost saving is worth the risk to Qantas’s enviable safety reputation. Others would argue that given the scrutiny now lavished on the MAX, it is possibly one of the safest aircraft in the sky.
There is no doubt that given the effect of the pandemic on Boeings business, not to mention the reputational damage, and financial burden the grounding of the MAX has had on the company – there is probably an exceedingly good deal to be done to mop up a bunch of these mothballed 737’s.
With most airlines flying less, and with overcapacity, and large proportions of their fleet in mothballs – does the approval of the 737 MAX for flight in the USA even rate in the news cycle? Well apparently yes, with American Airlines scheduling the 737 MAX back into service between Miami and New York from December 29, 2020, to January 4, 2021.
Qantas on the other hand will probably not race to a decision. Why would it? It has reduced flying demand with some domestic borders still closed and its not like the MAX is walking out of Boeing’s doors at the moment. With a huge financial deficit for its last year of operation, I suspect Qantas will be delaying any aircraft purchasing plans as long as possible.