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Boeing 737 MAX returns to the air Tuesday with first flight by US airline

A worker walks by a Boeing 737 Max airplane as it sits parked at the company's Renton production facility on Nov. 13, 2020 in Renton, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

American Airlines put the Boeing 737 MAX back in the air Tuesday as the first flight by a major U.S. airline since the aircraft was recertified last month.

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

The flight departed from Miami around 7:30 a.m. PT and arrived at LaGuardia Airport in New York around 10:30 a.m. PT.

CBS News Senior Travel Advisor Peter Greenberg was on the plane.

“Boeing, the airline, and the FAA claim the software system problems that caused the first two crashes that killed 346 people have been fixed,” Greenberg reports. “And they’ve properly retrained the pilots, not only on how to operate the system, but perhaps most important, how to override it.”

The 737 MAX was grounded worldwide for more than 20 months after two deadly international crashes. 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.

The reputational damage to the plane, to Boeing, and to the FAA remains, Greenberg said.

American Airlines previously said it plans to have one passenger flight a day on a MAX, connecting Miami and New York, starting Dec. 29 and running through Jan. 4. It will make a future decision on whether to extend that. Passengers will be notified that they’re booking a flight on a Boeing 737 MAX. Anyone uncomfortable flying on the plane will be flown at no additional charge on another aircraft type.

While American Airlines is the first to fly the jet after the grounding, other airlines plan to follow suit. United is set to resume MAX flights in February, and Southwest flights could start in the spring.

FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson, a former military and airline pilot, operated a test flight in September and vouched for the reworked plane’s safety, saying he would put his family on it. American Airlines President Robert Isom was on Tuesday’s inaugural U.S. flight, according to the airline.

Some relatives of people who died in the second crash, a Max operated by Ethiopian Airlines, contend that the plane is still unsafe. They and their lawyers say that Boeing is refusing to hand over documents about the plane’s design and development.

“The truth is that 346 people are now dead because Boeing cut corners, lied to regulators, and simply considers this the cost of doing business,” Yalena Lopez-Lewis, whose husband died in the crash, said in a statement issued by her lawyers. “It is infuriating that American Airlines is in effect rewarding Boeing for the corrupt and catastrophic process that led to the Max.”

Boeing spokesman Bernard Choi said the company “learned many hard lessons” from the crashes and is committed to safety.

“We continue to work closely with global regulators and our customers to support the safe return of the fleet to service around the world,” Choi said.

The return of the plane to U.S. skies is a huge boost for Boeing, which has lost billions during the Max grounding because it has been unable to deliver new planes to airline customers. Orders for the plane have plunged. Boeing has removed more than 1,000 Max jets from its backlog because airlines canceled orders or the sales are not certain to go through because of the pandemic crisis gripping the travel industry.

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk and the Associated Press’ David Koenig contributed to this report.

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