The US Federal Aviation Authority has cleared the Boeing 737 MAX to return to commercial service, pending design changes, ending a 20-month grounding of the plane.

In a statement Wednesday, the FAA announced that Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order, paving the way for the Boeing 737 MAX to resume flying.

Dickson, in a video statement on his order lifting the grounding, said the path that led the FAA to this point “was long and gruelling”.

“But we said from the start that we would take the time necessary to get this right. We were never driven by a timeline, but rather followed a methodical and deliberate safety process, a process that ultimately took 20 months to complete,” he said.

The Cayman Compass has reached out to Cayman Airways and the Cayman Islands Airports Authority for comment on this latest development and is awaiting responses.

Cayman Airways grounded its 737 MAX fleet in March 2019 following two fatal plane crashes – of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights – within five months of each other.

The FAA review of the plane and its safety upgrades stated, “Through a thorough, transparent and inclusive process, the FAA has determined that Boeing’s changes to the 737 MAX design, flightcrew procedures and maintenance procedures effectively mitigate the airplane-related safety issues that contributed to the Flight 610 and Flight 302 accidents.”

Dickson: ‘I am 100% comfortable with my family flying on it’

The FAA, Dickson said, thoroughly evaluated the certification of the aircraft’s automated flight control system and incorporated input from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Department of Transportation Inspector General, foreign civil aviation partners, the aviation industry and members of the public.

Dickson also personally took the MAX training that was recommended by the joint operations evaluation board, which included practising the new emergency procedures in the 737 MAX simulator.

“I flew the aircraft for about two hours to evaluate its handling qualities and the functionality of the flight control system. Now, based on all the activities that we’ve undertaken during the past 20 months, and my personal experience flying the aircraft, I can tell you now that I am 100% comfortable with my family flying on it this morning,” he said.

The FAA, in its statement, said during the 20-month evaluation FAA employees worked to identify and address the safety issues that played a role in the loss of 346 lives aboard Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

“Throughout our transparent process, we cooperated closely with our foreign counterparts on every aspect of the return to service,” the statement said.

The planes were grounded after a 29 Oct. 2018 Lion Air flight crashed shortly after takeoff in Jakarta, Indonesia, and a 10 March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after takeoff in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The MAX will not return immediately to the skies, Dickson said, as in addition to rescinding the order that grounded the aircraft, the FAA has published an Airworthiness Directive specifying design changes that must be made before the aircraft returns to service.

It has also issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community, and published the MAX training requirements.

The FAA must approve 737 MAX pilot training programme revisions for each US airline operating the MAX and will retain its authority to issue airworthiness certificates and export certificates of airworthiness for all new 737 MAX aircraft manufactured since the FAA issued the grounding order.

“For the time being, the FAA will inspect every new 737 MAX before issuing an air worthiness certificate. Likewise, the agency will approve the pilot training programme for each US operator and offer any other support needed,” Dickson said in his video statement.

Airlines that have parked their MAX aircraft must take required maintenance steps to prepare them to fly again, the FAA added.

“The design and certification of this aircraft included an unprecedented level of collaborative and independent reviews by aviation authorities around the world. Those regulators have indicated that Boeing’s design changes, together with the changes to crew procedures and training enhancements, will give them the confidence to validate the aircraft as safe to fly in their respective countries and regions,” the FAA added.

Following the plane’s return to service, the FAA said it will continue to work closely with foreign civil aviation partners to evaluate any potential additional enhancements for the aircraft.

“The agency also will conduct the same rigorous, continued operational safety oversight of the MAX that we provide for the entire U.S. commercial fleet,” it added.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now