US aviation authorities have given Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX aircraft the green light to fly passengers again after a 20-month grounding.
The flight ban has been in place since March 2019, following two fatal crashes within five months that killed 346 people.
On Thursday morning (Australian time), the US Federal Aviation Administration announced it had cleared the MAX for flight, but the planes won’t return to the skies for a while.
For the 59 airlines to be able to once again fly the aircraft, Boeing must first install a new software system as the old had been found to have pushed down the nose of both planes that crashed.
They were an Ethiopian Airlines jet that plunged into the ground six minutes after takeoff and a flight for Indonesia’s Lion Air that crashed into the sea with 189 people on board.
The US air safety agency said it had completed a “comprehensive and methodical” 20-month review process and the decision to clear the Max for flight was made in co-operation with air safety regulators worldwide.
“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 Federal Aviation Administration said.
Some family members of those killed in the two crashes have objected to the plane’s return to service, saying mistakes had been made in its design.
Michael Stumo, whose daughter died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, said the MAX was “inherently unstable and it is unairworthy without its software”.
“They haven’t fixed it so far. The flying public should avoid the MAX in the future. Change your flight,” he said ahead of the announcement.
He joined other family members who argued for changes to how pilots are alerted about a problem.
“We as family members want to avoid a third crash,” Mr Stumo said.
The Air Line Pilots Association said “the engineering fixes to the flight-critical aircraft systems are sound and will be an effective component that leads to the safe return to service of the 737 MAX”.
American Airlines is the only airline to so far add the plane to its schedule.
The MAX will fly passengers between Miami and New York in late December and early January.
But many other airlines aren’t planning to fly the plane until later in 2021.
The move came after numerous US congressional hearings on the crashes that led to criticism of the FAA for lax oversight and Boeing for rushing to implement a new software system that put profits ahead of safety and ultimately led to the firing of its chief executive.