In 2018 and 2019, the Boeing 737 Max killed 346 people in a series of crashes. It was grounded. Twenty months after it grounded, the Federal Aviation Administration has cleared the aircraft to return to the sky.
In the first crash, which happened on October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 dove into the Java Sea 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing 189 people. The flight crew made a distress call shortly before losing control. That aircraft was almost brand-new, having arrived at Lion Air three months earlier.
The second crash occurred on March 10, 2019 when Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 departed Addis Ababa Bole International Airport bound for Nairobi, Kenya. Just after takeoff, the pilot radioed a distress call and was given immediate clearance to return and land. But before the crew could make it back, the aircraft crashed 40 miles from the airport, six minutes after it left the runway. All 149 passengers and eight crew members died. The aircraft involved was only four months old.
As part of the decision to reform the air flight, the agency ordered Boeing and airlines to make repairs to a flight control system blamed for both crashes and increase pilot training. The Max would not be permitted to actually carry passengers until those steps are completed, and other reports have identified other potential problems with the airliner’s flight control computer, wiring and engines. Airlines operating the Max, however, are pushing ahead with plans to add the Max back into their fleets by early 2021. For now, the FAA’s order affects only the US. Aviation safety agencies Canada, Brazil and the European Union are conducting their own reviews of the plane. Until those are completed, the 737 Max will remain grounded in some places.
The developments have been a huge blow to Boeing, which has thousands of 737 Max orders on its books. Even once it’s flying again worldwide, the company will have to work vigorously to retain the trust of airlines and the flying public for the Max family. Here’s everything else we know about the airliner so far.