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FAA Clears Boeing 737 Max To Return To The Skies


The FAA is clearing Boeing 737 Max to fly passengers again. The plane has been grounded since 2019 after the second of two Max crashes that killed 346 people. Investigations found not only design flaws but what some call a pattern of deception at Boeing and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA. NPR's David Schaper reports that's led to scrutiny of the process of recertifying the Max.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: For Naoise Ryan, the pain of losing her husband in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight 20 months ago is still as raw today as it ever was.

NAOISE RYAN: The day of the crash, the day Mick was killed, part of me died also. Our family is broken.

SCHAPER: Mick Ryan, an engineer with the World Food Programme, left behind Naoise and two young children.

RYAN: Because of the actions of Boeing and the FAA, we have been handed a life sentence. We are suffering and will most likely continue to suffer for a very long time.

SCHAPER: Ryan calls it sheer incompetence, negligence and a culture of concealment that led Boeing to develop a new plane with a critical design flaw and withhold information about it from the FAA. She and others also blame the regulators for not grounding the 737 Max after the first crash in Indonesia.

Michael Stumo's daughter, 24-year-old Samya Rose Stumo, was killed in the second crash in Ethiopia.

MICHAEL STUMO: They say, trust us, just like before. We cannot trust this plane.

SCHAPER: But FAA Administrator Steve Dickson insists that after what he calls a comprehensive, methodical and deliberate review process over the last 20 months, the 737 Max is now safe to fly passengers again.


STEVE DICKSON: This airplane has undergone an unprecedented level of scrutiny by the FAA. We have not left anything to chance here.

SCHAPER: The design flaw was in an automated flight control system, which, based on data from a single faulty sensor, repeatedly forced both planes into nosedives. Boeing says it addressed the problems with software fixes and by adding redundancies. And Administrator Dickson, a former Delta Airlines pilot, recently flew a 737 Max himself to put Boeing's revamped system to the test.


DICKSON: The design changes that we have overseen make it impossible for these accident scenarios to reoccur.

SCHAPER: Dickson says he was planning on talking with the families of those who died in the 737 Max crashes later today, adding that he can't imagine their pain.


DICKSON: I mean, it's incomprehensible to me for that to happen. So it has motivated us to leave no stone unturned. But I am fully confident that the aircraft is safe, and I would put my own family on it.

SCHAPER: The fact that the FAA initially certified the Max with a flawed design frayed relationships with fellow aviation authorities around the world, many of whom are no longer taking the FAA's word on the aircraft's safety and are conducting their own reviews. But regulators in Canada, Europe and elsewhere now say they, too, are satisfied with Boeing's revisions and may soon also allow the jet to return to service. But will travelers be confident in the safety of the Max?

JON WEAKS: We're very cognizant of the fact that there may be some trepidations or questions about it.

SCHAPER: Jon Weaks is a 737 pilot and president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. And he says he understands that passengers may not want to board a Max.

WEAKS: The ultimate litmus test is if a Southwest pilot is flying that airplane, they can be assured that they are safe.

SCHAPER: Still, it may be a while before any Max plane is flying passengers. With the planes parked in storage for almost two years now, they'll need a lot of maintenance before you can restart the engines. Then each plane individually will have Boeing's upgrades installed, tested and certified. Plus, pilots need to undergo new comprehensive training. Southwest Airlines says it could take three to four months to start flying passengers on the Max again. But American Airlines has already started scheduling Max flights for late December.

David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.
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