How will Boeing 737 MAX return to operation in 2021?
Updated: Aug 18, 2021
After being grounded for nearly 2 years in Canada and Europe, the Boeing 737 MAX has been re-approved for flight starting in 2021. Additionally, Transport Canada and the EASA are taking further steps to ensure flight safety with changes to the 737 MAX’s MRO program and pilot training procedures.
Back in the air in Canada and Europe
On January 20, 2021, the Boeing 737 MAX was approved by Canada to be used for commercial flights, after a nearly two-year ban on the model. Regulator Transport Canada has lifted the ban on the MAX after approving the design changes made to the model, and will gradually bring the aircraft back into its North American flight networks.
Europe has also recertified the 737 MAX for flights starting at the end of January. Patrick Ky, the executive director of the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), stated that the agency’s inspection processes will be more stringent going forwards. Regarding US-built aircraft and components, the EASA will “make [its] own assessment and increase our level of involvement on those systems,” rather than relying solely on the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Canada and the EU’s approvals of the MAX follow in the footsteps of the US and Brazil, both of which have already approved the model in November 2020.
The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded following two fatal crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019, which resulted in the deaths of 346 people. The malfunction was caused by a faulty sensor, which repeatedly triggered a system that pushed the aircraft’s nose downwards. Aviation maintenance agencies and regulators have been working in the past two years to recertify the model.
Changes to Boeing 737 MAX’s MRO Programs
As detailed by the FAA, the MAX will have an upgraded flight control computer (FCC) software that includes updates to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). These updates will address the activation malfunctions that caused the two crashes by providing automatic nose-down horizontal stabilizer inputs.
Other changes include:
More detailed information about the MCAS and its functions in the 737 MAX-family maintenance manuals
Final checks on the angle-of-attack (AOA) sensors to ensure proper calibration
The requirement of dual FCCs, Speed Trim Fail, and Stab Out-of-Trim lights to be operational for dispatch
Transport Canada’s Airworthiness Directive for the MAX, as well as the EASA’s Proposed Airworthiness Directive, are both the same as the FAA requirements and software updates.
In particular, Canada is taking further steps to decrease the pilot’s cockpit workload and to increase emphasis on certain parts of the pilot training syllabus. This is in addition to conducting regular maintenance on the aircraft, which is all the more important with the Boeing 737 MAX models’ extended AOG period.
The Challenge of Prolonged AOG in 2021
Beyond diagnostic costs, aircrafts that suffer from long-term AOG will require a plethora of MRO checks.