MIAMI – The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has today lifted the ban on the Boeing 737 MAX, declaring that the plane is safe and can therefore fly in the bloc again.

With a battery of software updates, electrical wiring reworks, maintenance checks, operations manual re-editions and enhanced Pilot training, the MAX is ready to fly safely in European skies after almost two years on the ground.

Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 BFI Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

Statement from EASA

EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky said, “We have reached a significant milestone on a long road. Following extensive analysis by EASA, we have determined that the 737 MAX can safely return to service.”

Ky goes on to explain that the aircraft assessment was carried out independently and without the prying eyes of Boeing, the US the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and done so “without any economic or political pressure.”

“We asked difficult questions until we got answers and pushed for solutions which satisfied our exacting safety requirements.  We carried out our own flight tests and simulator sessions and did not rely on others to do this for us. Let me be quite clear that this journey does not end here.” he added.

While confident that the aircraft is safe, a precondition for EASA giving its approval, the European body says it will continue to monitor 737 MAX operations closely as the aircraft resumes service. Ky adds, “In parallel, and at our insistence, Boeing has also committed to work to enhance the aircraft still further in the medium term, in order to reach an even higher level of safety. The mandated actions need to be seen as a complete package which together ensure the aircraft’s safety,” Ky said.

“This is not just about changes to the design of the aircraft: every individual 737 MAX Pilot needs to undergo a once-off special training, including simulator training, to ensure that they are fully familiar with the redesigned 737 MAX and trained to handle specific scenarios which may arise in flight. This will be reinforced by recurrent training to ensure the knowledge is kept fresh.” 

Neos Air Boeing 737-8MAX at BFI Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

EASA Conditions for the MAX to Return to Service

In the days after the grounding, EASA set four conditions for the return to service of the aircraft:  

  • The two accidents (JT610 and ET302) are deemed sufficiently understood
  • Design changes proposed by Boeing to address the issues highlighted by the accidents are EASA approved and their embodiment is mandated
  • An  independent extended design review has been completed by EASA 
  • Boeing 737 MAX flight crews have been adequately trained

“These four conditions have now all been met, allowing us to go ahead with the return to service,” Ky said. In summary, the EASA Airworthiness Directive mandates the following main actions: 

  • Software updates for the flight control computer, including the MCAS
  • Software updates to display an alert in case of disagreement between the two AoA sensors
  • Physical separation of wires routed from the cockpit to the stabiliser trim motor
  • Updates to flight manuals: operational limitations and improved procedures to equip pilots to understand and manage all relevant failure scenarios
  • Mandatory training for all 737 MAX pilots before they fly the plane again, and updates of the initial and recurrent training of pilots on the MAX
  • Tests of systems including the AoA sensor system
  • An operational readiness flight, without passengers, before commercial usage of each aircraft to ensure that all design changes have been correctly implemented and the aircraft successfully and safely brought out of its long period of storage. 
TUI Boeing 737-8MAX at BFI Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

Resumption of Flights in Europe

The Airworthiness Directive, which details the aircraft and operational suitability changes, including crew training requirements, must be carried out before each individual plane returns to service.

However, scheduling of these mandated actions is a matter for the aircraft operators, under the oversight of Member States’ national aviation authorities, meaning that the actual return to service may take some time. COVID-19 may also have the last word on the final pace of return to commercial operations for the Boeing 737 MAX.

Boeing responded to EASA’s MAX ban lift with the following:

“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents. 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. We continue to work with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, its member states, other global regulators and our customers to safely return the 737-8 and 737-9 to service worldwide.”

Featured image: Air Europa Boeing 737-8MAX at BFI. Photo: Brandon Farris