Washington (AFP) -
US regulators on Wednesday cleared the Boeing 737 MAX to return to the skies, ending its 20-month grounding after two fatal crashes that plunged the company into crisis.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the approval followed 'an unprecedented level of collaborative and independent reviews by aviation authorities around the world.'
In a video that accompanied the announcement, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said he was '100 percent comfortable' with having his family fly the jet. Dickson piloted test flights during the approval process.
The plane was grounded after two crashes that killed a total of 346 people in 2018 and 2019. Both Boeing and the FAA have come under fire in the wake of the crisis, with critics saying Boeing sacrificed safety for profit and that FAA was too deferential to the private giant.
The cause of the two crashes was identified as a faulty safety system that was supposed to keep the plane from stalling as it ascended but instead forced the nose of the plane downward.
Boeing applauded the FAA's action as an 'important milestone' in the company's journey to restoring its reputation and safely returning the jet to service.
'We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,' said Boeing Chief Executive David Calhoun. 'These events and the lessons we have learned as a result have reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity.'
But family members who lost loved ones in the crash blasted the decision, according to a statement from Clifford Law Offices, which is representing the families in litigation.
'The aggressive secrecy of the FAA means we cannot believe the Boeing 737 MAX is safe,' said Michael Stumo, whose daughter died in an Ethiopian Airlines crash of the plane in March 2019.
'We were told the plane was safe when certified in March 2017 and again after the Lion Air crash in October 2018. 'Just trust us' does not work anymore.' That was the first of the two crashes, off the coast of Indonesia.
The MAX still face a few hurdles to clear before it returns to commercial service.
Regulators in other countries also want to re-certify the plane. And the FAA said it must approve 737 MAX pilot training program revisions for each US airline operating the MAX.
Boeing also still faces a number of investigations and lawsuits connected to the crashes.
A report released in September from a House panel called the crashes 'the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing's engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing's management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA.'
Shares of Boeing shot up early Wednesday, rising 6.6 percent to $224.00 in pre-market trading.