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Boeing 737 Max returns to Los Angeles skies

About two years after a couple of fatal accidents, the Boeing 737 Max aircraft returns to the skies over Los Angeles as part of its gradual return to world commercial service.

With a series of investigations, tests, updates and regulatory approvals behind it, a 737 Max with passengers will take off Thursday from Los Angeles International Airport for the first time since March 2019, when the airliner was grounded around the world.

Correction:

6:19 PM, Feb. 17, 2021 An earlier version of this story said the first 737 Max flight at LAX was bound for Houston. It will arrive from Houston and head to Denver.

A Brazilian airline was the first to offer 737 Max flights in early December, and US airlines began returning the plane to service late last year. A United Airlines trip departing Houston at 2:37 pm will be the first 737 Max flight to land at Los Angeles airport. You will then fly to Denver.

United hopes to give passengers the flexibility to avoid the 737 Max but under the same airline. He has promised that when travelers make a reservation, the airline will make clear the type of plane they are boarding on. It also promised not to make any last minute scheduling changes that unexpectedly put a passenger in a 737 Max.

If a passenger booked in a 737 Max refuses to fly, United said the airline will either rebook the traveler on a replacement flight at no cost or refund the ticket. All United routes will have options other than the 737 Max, the airline noted: At least half of the flights on each route will use other aircraft.

“We will be totally transparent with our customers and we will notify them in advance when they have a reservation to fly on a Max aircraft,” the airline said in a statement.

The first passenger flight in the United States of a 737 Max after the suspension was lifted was made by American Airlines on December 29, 2020, from Miami to New York. As of January 25, six airlines, including Air Canada, Aeromexico, WestJet, GOL and Copa Airlines, had flown the plane on more than 2,700 flights worldwide, with about 5,500 hours in the air, according to Boeing.

Other airlines plan to add the plane to their programs in the coming months, such as Alaska Airlines, which will begin on March 1 with daily roundtrip flights between Los Angeles Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and between San Diego and Seattle International Airport.

A couple of years ago, the 737 Max was Boeing Co.’s best-selling model based on about 5,000 orders placed before the accidents. Boeing touted the plane as 14% more fuel efficient than its previous 737s, and quieter, thanks to acoustic treatments in and around the engines. Airlines were eager to add it to their fleets.

Then, in October 2018, one of the planes crashed and by March 2019, another one crashed. All those on board the planes, flown by Indonesia’s Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines, respectively, died, a total of 346 people. Regulators around the world grounded the Maxs. As investigations into the accidents progressed, airlines began to cancel orders.

Investigators determined that the accidents were due to changes introduced by Boeing that distinguish the 737 Max from its predecessors.

To handle a longer fuselage that could accommodate more passengers, Boeing put bigger and more powerful engines on the plane. Those engines had to move forward on the wings because they didn’t fit in the same places as the older, smaller engines. But the new location could cause the plane to tilt upward. To counter that, Boeing added software called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System to automatically push the nose of the plane down.

Regulators determined that a faulty sensor on planes caused the software system to plummet under certain conditions, challenging the pilots’ efforts to regain control of the plane.

After 20 months of investigations, updates and tests, the regulators cleared the plane to carry passengers again.

Would passengers book flights? Shortly after the accidents, many doubted it.

A 2019 study led by aviation consultant Henry Harteveldt found that at least 20% of American travelers said they would definitely avoid the plane in its first six months after flights resume. More than 40% responded that they would be willing to take more expensive or less convenient flights to avoid the 737 Max, the survey found.

Harteveldt has not replicated that study, but said passengers are probably not so scared anymore because they recognize the work Boeing engineers and aviation regulators have put into fixing the problem.

“It is a much better plane than before it was grounded,” he said.

So far, airline representatives and aviation analysts say that passengers have not refused to board the plane en masse.

“Bookings on the Max are comparable to other aircraft and we do not see data to suggest that customers do not want to fly on the plane,” said American Airlines spokesman Curtis Blessing.

The Airline Pilots Association, which represents 59,000 pilots from 35 US and Canadian airlines, has welcomed the return of the aircraft, stating that it is confident that additional training and software updates to the aircraft will make it safe to return to. its commercial use.

“The engineering fixes for critical aircraft systems are robust,” the union said in November 2020, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowed the 737 Max to fly again.

The Flight Attendants Association-CWA, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants on 17 airlines, has taken more care to ensure that federal regulators thoroughly vet all new aircraft in the future to prevent these types of disasters.

“This is a time when we must fulfill our commitment to do so much better and demand only the highest safety standards,” the group said in response to the FAA’s decision to allow the 737 Max to once again carry passengers.

Boeing said it continues “to work closely with global regulators and customers to return the aircraft to service safely.”

FlyersRights.org, a passenger rights group with more than 60,000 members, doesn’t trust the plane. The group has filed two lawsuits, one to require the FAA to provide detailed information about the tests performed on the aircraft and the other to request that the FAA revoke the order allowing the 737 Max to return to service.

The FAA responded to the data request by providing the group with thousands of documents that were so drafted they were almost impossible to understand, said Paul Hudson, the group’s president. As for the lawsuit to keep the plane on the ground, he noted that it was rejected by a court in Washington, DC, and is now under appeal.

When asked if he thinks the public should fly the 737 Max, Hudson replied, “We think people should make their own decision.”

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