American Airlines has become the first US carrier to conduct a revenue flight on the Boeing 737 Max aircraft following the type’s ungrounding last month.
According to flight tracking website Flightaware, AA 718 departed Miami International airport at 10:24 local time on 29 December with 100 passengers on board, and is due to land at New York’s LaGuardia airport just under three hours later. The aircraft is scheduled to fly back to Miami with an “almost full” load later in the day.
“The return to service has been in the works for quite a long time so this is the culmination of the work that we have been putting in,” Chris Hurrell, American’s 737 fleet captain, tells FlightGlobal ahead of the type’s first departure.
American has 31 of the aircraft type, seven of which have been delivered since the type’s ungrounding on 18 November, Hurrell says. The other 24 examples had been in what he calls “active storage” at the airline’s major maintenance facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma since the type was banned from flying in March 2019.
“That means our maintenance personnal addressed them every 10 days or so - they had engines run, different systems like the hydrolics run, tyres rotated - to keep them in a flight-ready state the entire time for the past 20 months. Now with the ungrounding order and the FAA’s new airworthiness directive, those aircraft are going through all the compliance checks, and the final check is an operational readiness flight.”
Four of the previously stored aircraft have so far completed that readiness flight and could immediately go back into service, with the other 20 currently in the process, Hurrell says.
About 3,000 of the airline’s pilots are slated to fly the 737, of which 1,400 have already completed the new additional Max training requirements which include a simulator session, he adds.
”When pilots get into simulators, they usually are being evaluated. The return-to-service Max training is real training, and not a test. Pilots are trained in handling non-normal situations, and learning to use the new checklists that have changed for the return-to-service,” he says.
On 18 November, the Federal Aviation Administration rescinded its 13 March 2019 “Emergency Order of Prohibition” – the document barring US airlines from operating Boeing’s latest 737 iteration – after the airframer adequately addressed numerous safety issues which had led to two fatal accidents in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.
Brazil’s civil aviation agency ANAC followed with its re-certification a week later but the aircraft is still awaiting re-approval in several other jurisdictions including China, Europe and Canada.
Since the ungrounding, Latin American carriers Gol and Aeromexico have returned the type to revenue service. In the USA, American Airlines is the first to resume flights with the aircraft.
In order to boost confidence in the re-certificated Max, American offered five employee-only flights ahead of returning the jet into its normal passenger schedule.
Hurrell says that while it’s an exciting day for the airline, the preferred outcome of the Max’s return-to-service would be an uneventful flight.
”The object is to fly an aircraft from A to B safely and on time and make sure our passengers get where they need to go,” he says. “That’s our goal for today’s flight, too.”
United Airlines is scheduled to bring the type back into its schedule on 11 February, and all-Boeing carrier Southwest Airlines expects to have it flying in revenue service by March.
Last week an Air Canada 737 Max suffered an engine issue shortly after departing an airport where the jet had been stored since the type’s grounding. Pilots shut the affected engine off and landed safely.