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After 20-month grounding, FAA recertifies Boeing 737 MAX to fly passengers

A Boeing 737 MAX jet, piloted by FAA chief Steve Dickson, takes off on a test flight. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Wednesday that it has issued a recertification for Boeing’s 737 MAX plane, allowing it to once again carry passengers, and effectively ending its 20-month grounding.

The commercial aircraft, which was grounded after two deadly crashes and ongoing reports of safety mismanagement, has not flown nationally or internationally since March 2019.

Those two crashes led to the deaths of 346 passengers and crew across a pair of catastrophic flights, Lion Air Flight 610 in late 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in early 2019. In the months to follow, reports surfaced that the plane had been rushed to market after Boeing and regulators had quietly worked together to standardize a feature that alerted pilots of faulty information from key sensors.

Those sensors would sometimes force the 737 MAX to point into a nosedive, an error now believed to have been the cause of both crashes.

“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” Boeing CEO David Calhoun said in a Wednesday news release. “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.”

CNN estimates that between the grounding of the craft and the work Boeing had to do to get it recertified, the entire affair cost the company upwards of $20 billion.

Recertification does not mean the single-aisle airplane will return to service immediately. Thousands of pilots worldwide will require retraining on the MAX’s new flight software, originally the issue that got the aircraft grounded in the first place.

Additionally, the company noted that it still needs to work with regulators in other countries, citing the FAA’s clearance as “an important milestone.”

Washington Rep. Rick Larsen, who chairs the Congressional aviation subcommittee, issued a statement on Twitter shortly after the recertification was announced, saying the following:

This comes during what’s been a tough year for Boeing and the rest of the aviation industry, with the pandemic largely limiting commercial travel. Toward the start of the COVID crisis, Boeing laid off roughly 19,000 employees across the world, followed by an additional 7,000 layoffs announced in late October.

In early October, Boeing announced that it would be consolidating operations for its 787 Dreamliner assembly line in South Carolina by mid-2021, moving thousands of jobs out of the Everett area.

KIRO Radio’s Mike Lewis contributed to this report.

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