Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft has been given the green light to return to the skies in the EU by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), after a 22-month grounding following two fatal crashes.
Marking a crucial step in its return to service, a modified version of the US company’s previously bestselling aeroplane has been given permission to fly again, although not until a package of checks and training is completed.
The move does not apply to the UK after its departure from the EU on 1 January, and the UK regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, will certify the plane separately. The CAA is expected to make an announcement shortly, and said EASA’s work would form the basis of its decision.
EASA said each 737 Max aircraft would be required to undergo software upgrades, reworking of its electrical system, maintenance checks, operations manual updates and crew training before re-entering service.
As a result, each aircraft will have to undergo an updated airworthiness directive, which will be scheduled by the aircraft operators and overseen by the national aviation authority of each of the 27 EU member states, meaning it may be some time before the 737 Max takes off again in Europe.
EASA has followed in the footsteps of regulators in the US and Brazil in granting approval to the modified 737 Max. The decision to give approval was “a significant milestone on a long road”, said EASA’s executive director, Patrick Ky, adding that the regulator had not come under any pressure from Boeing or others to do so.
“This assessment was carried out in full independence of Boeing or the Federal Aviation Administration and without any economic or political pressure – we asked difficult questions until we got answers and pushed for solutions which satisfied our exacting safety requirements,” Ky said.
Ky said EASA had every confidence that the aircraft safe” and that it had conducted its own flight tests.
The 737 Max was grounded globally in March 2019 after two plane crashes in the space of six months killed a total of 346 people.
EASA, which will continue to closely monitor 737 Max operations when the planes return to the skies, said it had insisted that Boeing would continue its work to improve the aircraft over the medium term, to “reach an even higher level of safety”.
The 737 Max was grounded after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia caused by a faulty sensor, which repeatedly triggered a system that pushed down the nose of the plane.