Boeing’s 737 Max will fly passengers in the US for the first time in 21 months on Tuesday, with American Airlines set to operate the first commercial flight of the jet since two deadly crashes prompted its worldwide grounding.
American Airlines Flight 718 will depart Miami International Airport at 10:30am ET (15:30 GMT) for New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
By the end of February, 91 daily American flights will be flown by the MAX, with United, Southwest, and Alaska airlines also resuming service in the first quarter of the year. Brazilian carrier Gol, which operates an all-Boeing 737 fleet, became the first airline to relaunch the jets earlier this month.
Meanwhile, American and other carriers that operate the MAX said that customers that booked on the aircraft but don’t feel comfortable flying on the plane, could switch flights without paying a fee if options are available.
“The truth is anytime there’s a problem with the 737 even if it’s a coffee maker on the fritz, it’s going to be news,” Henry Harteveldt, a former airline executive and president of travel consulting firm Atmosphere Research told CNBC. He said that while some travelers may opt for other aircraft at first, if there aren’t any major issues “it will be seen as just another plane.”
Regulators grounded the troubled Boeing aircraft worldwide in March 2019, after two almost-new 737 MAX planes crashed within five months of one another. The crashes, which occurred in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killed all 346 people on board. They prompted a lengthy safety review that was met by numerous delays, driving up losses and costs for Boeing. In both crashes, the new flight control software caused the aircraft to unexpectedly nosedive shortly after takeoff.
Boeing has since updated its flight manuals and revised several features of the model, including the flight control software and associated hardware in the cabin.
In November, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared the 737 MAX to fly again after a nearly two-year ban, with FAA chief Stephen Dickson saying he was “100 percent comfortable with [his] family flying on it.”
The 737’s return, however, comes at a time when air travel traffic has plummeted to historic lows globally due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to Statista, the number of scheduled passengers boarded by the global airline industry dropped to only 1.8 billion people by the end of November. That represents a 60 percent loss in global air passenger traffic.
ACI Europe airports association warned earlier that 193 airports are at risk of insolvency in the coming months if passenger traffic does not start to recover.
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