Boeing 737 Max back in the skies after fatal crashes that killed 346

Business

Commercial passenger flights have resumed on Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft for the first time in 20 months, after Brazilian airline Gol resumed operations using the plane.

The aircraft was grounded globally in March 2019 after two fatal plane crashes in the space of six months, which killed a total of 346 people.

The American company’s previously bestselling aeroplane was given approval to return to the skies by US regulators in November.

Gol, Brazil’s largest domestic airline, had previously announced it would reintroduce the 737 Max on routes to and from the company’s hub in São Paulo.

The aircraft completed a 864km flight (537 miles) from São Paulo to Porto Alegre on Wednesday, with a journey time of one hour and 16 minutes, according to website Flightradar24.com, which tracks global flight data.

Gol declined to comment on how many passengers were on board the first 737 Max commercial passenger flight in nearly two years.

All 189 passengers and crew on board Lion Air Flight 610 died in October 2018 when the plane crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta. Less than five months later, in March 2019, all 157 people on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 died when it crashed minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa, triggering a global grounding of the 737 Max fleet.

Faulty sensors and a design flaw that repeatedly pushed down the nose of the aircraft were blamed for the two incidents.

Following months of safety assessments, a design upgrade, and test flights, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted restrictions on the 737 Max last month, followed by other regulators, including in Europe and Brazil.

Gol’s flight is a critical milestone for Boeing, which has been burning through cash and cut 30,000 jobs in recent months as it faced the twin challenges of the shutdown of global aviation during the coronavirus pandemic, and the grounding of the 737 Max which amounted to more than $20bn (£15bn) in direct costs.

Gol has seven 737 Max aircraft in its fleet, and a further 95 on order with Boeing.

The airline’s chief executive, Paulo Kakinoff, welcomed the return of the aircraft earlier in December.

“The Max is one of the most efficient aircraft in aviation history and the only one to undergo a complete recertification process, ensuring the highest levels of safety and reliability,” Kakinoff said.

However, the airline will allow customers who do not wish to fly on a 737 Max to exchange their ticket. American Airlines is expected to be the next operator to restart flights with the aircraft on 29 December.

Ryanair, Europe’s biggest short-haul airline, has ordered a total of 210 of the aircraft that its chief executive, Michael O’Leary, has described as a “gamechanger” for the carrier’s business model due to its fuel efficiency.