MIAMI – Today, an American Airlines (AA) Boeing 737 MAX took off on its first public appearance with media on board after being grounded due to fatal accidents. AA is one of its main customers and the flight aims to show the type is safe for passengers.

The flight from Dallas, Texas, to Tulsa, Oklahoma comes weeks before the first commercial passenger flight on December 29, and is part of a concerted PR campaign following a 20-month ban to restore the reputation of the jet.

The PR efforts are intended to highlight software and training enhancements that the FAA has said have eliminated any concerns about the safety of the aircraft. On his part, AA CEO Doug Parker said on Instagram that he had flown on the MAX “with the utmost peace of mind” just yesterday with his wife and airline colleagues.

Today’s flight is the first time that anyone, apart from the test Pilots and regulators, has flown on the MAX since its grounding, which rocked the aviation industry and sparked inquiries focused on the MCAS software that overwhelmed Pilots.

As quoted in a Reuters report of the flight, Captain Pete Gamble told passengers just before takeoff, “The history of aviation is built around a chain of safety. It’s up to those of us in the industry to mend it and return it when the safety chain breaks.”

Boeing 737 MAX Airworthiness Certificate

Following design modifications and new instruction, the FAA issued its first airworthiness certificate for Boeing 737 MAX built since March 2019, the agency said on last Tuesday.

“We expect to have a sufficient number of inspectors on hand to meet Boeing’s planned delivery schedule for the foreseeable future. We’ll defer to Boeing to discuss the company’s manufacturing and delivery plans,” FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said.

For Boeing’s image and finances, which have been hit hard by a freeze on MAX deliveries as well as the coronavirus crisis, a smooth return to service for the type is seen as crucial.

Reuters also reports that by managing a 24-hour “situation room” to track every MAX flight globally, Boeing is bracing for intense publicity scrutiny of even routine glitches. the company has briefed some industry commentators about the return of the aircraft, according to Reuters sources.

First Boeing 737 MAX-8, N324RA for American Airlines. photo: American Airlines

Airlines Preparing for the Return of the MAX

Boeing has said that airlines would play a direct role in demonstrating that the 737 MAX is safe for travelers. A similar media event is scheduled this month by Brazil’s Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes, with tentative expectations of flying its first commercial flights as soon as next week. Brazilian Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) allowed the Boeing 737 MAX to operate in that country again at the end of last month.

Moreover, A United Airlines (UA) spokesperson confirmed with Airways this week that when the carrier returns the Boeing 737 MAX 9 to service, it will be used between George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and Denver International Airport (DEN) before expanding from there.

Still, families of Boeing crash victims fear of the ungrounding of 737 MAX by the FAA is premature and may lead to a third crash. So far, authorities have not yet released the Ethiopian Crash Final Investigative Report.

As the crisis dragged on longer than it planned and perhaps out of respect for the families of the victims, Boeing toned down its original plans for the return of the plane – scrapping a high-profile promotional campaign, a ceremony in the Seattle area and a tour using an Oman Air (WY) Boeing 737 MAX, industry sources told Reuters.

Featured image: American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8. Photo: Carlos Lugo.