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The Boeing 737 MAX plane involved in back-to-back crashes that killed 346 people resumed its first commercial flight in the US on Tuesday.
The closely watched American Airlines flight — which shuttled passengers between Miami to LaGuardia — follows a nearly two-year grounding of the aircraft maker’s most popular plane, which suffered two deadly crashes in a brutal five-month span starting in 2018.
American Airlines flight 718 landed at New York’s LaGuardia Airport in Queens around 1:08 p.m after departing Miami around 10:40 a.m.
The plane was cleared to take the skies by the Federal Aviation Administration in November, promoting American and Boeing to seek to reassure passengers that it’s safe to fly.
“We’re flying on a Boeing 737 Max,” Capt. Sean Roskey announced over the plane’s PA system, to some applause from passengers, according to CNBC, which had a reporter in the flight. “We have the utmost confidence in this aircraft. As a matter of fact, my wife is on board.”
It’s unclear whether the non-American Airline passenger who purchased tickets for Tuesday’s American Airlines shuttle between NYC and Miami knew they would be boarding a Boeing 737 Max.
A recent Reuters/IPSOS poll shows that while the memory of the crashes has faded over the years, more than half of passengers are still wary of taking the jet when reminded of them.
“If a customer doesn’t want to fly on a 737 MAX aircraft, they won’t have to,” American Airlines vowed on a web page dedicated to the questions about the plane’s safety. The airline promised to rebook skittish customers on the next available flight “free of charge,” or “cancel their trip” in exchange for “travel credits redeemable with American Airlines.”
The first 737 Max crash involved a Lion Air plane in Indonesia in October 2018, killing 189 people. It was followed five months later by an Ethiopian Airlines crashed that resulted in the death of all 157 people on board.
Software glitches have been blamed for the crashes and the jet was only approved to fly again last month after Boeing agreed to software upgrades and new safeguards on the flight control system linked to the fatal crashes.
Family members of victims of the aircraft’s previous crashes continue to blast the FAA’s decision, however, and called the FAA’s certification process into question, including in a letter to lawmakers this month.
“The more that is uncovered about the development of the Boeing 737 MAX, the more distrust unfolds from the families and the flying public,” Robert A. Clifford, a lawyer for families of 72 victims of the MAX crashes, said in a statement.
Regulators in Brazil have also OK’d the plane to fly and officials in Canada are expected to follow. Use of the 737 Max is also expected to expand in the US in 2021 as Southwest and United have both announced plans to add the plane to their flight schedules.
American Airlines currently has 31 737 MAX aircraft after taking delivery of seven more jets since the FAA lifted its safety ban, including one on Monday, and plans to gradually reintroduce the plane to its fleet.
The airline said at a briefing Tuesday morning that 1,400 pilots have received new training for the MAX, and that all of its pilots rated to fly the aircraft will be trained by March 2021.
Shares of Boeing ended the day up 0.07 percent to $216.25 a share.
With Post wires