KEY POINTS

  • Ryanair ordered 135 737 MAX planes from Boeing before it was grounded in 2019 following two fatal crashes
  • The Lion Air and Ethiopia Airlines crashes killed more than 340 crew and passengers in 2018 and 2019, respectively
  • FAA conducted test flights and has drafted a new safety manual in the U.S. while foreign flight agencies conduct their own reviews of the plane

Irish airline Ryanair said Friday it expects the Boeing 737 MAX, all of which were grounded following two fatal crashes, to return to service within the next month. The company has more than 100 of the planes non order and is due to receive them early next year.

“The first of those [orders] we would hope to arrive in very early 2021,” Ryanair executive Eddie Wilson said. “The FAA finished their test flights last week and it looks like it’s going to go back into service in the U.S. in the next month or so.”

Ryanair previously ordered 135 737 MAX planes before they were grounded in March 2019.

Boeing’s commercial passenger plane was grounded after 346 passengers and crew were killed in two crashes. The first took place on Oct. 29, 2018, when Indonesia’s Lion Air Flight 610 crashed in the Java Sea and killed all 189 people onboard. Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed on March 10, 2019, near Bishoftu, Ethiopia and killed all 157 people onboard.

In both cases, it was found a glitch in the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System caused the planes to go into nosedives, and the pilots were unable to regain control.

Shortly after the second crash, all 737 MAX planes were grounded, and federal investigators began looking into the problem. Documents from Boeing and the FAA showed test pilots encountered the problem two years before the first crash, but still deemed the plane safe and did not add information about the potential glitch to the plane’s manual.

“I'm outraged,” House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio told NPR in October 2019. “Somehow they saw fit, even though they've had it four months, not to provide us this document, which in my mind is the smoking gun.”

The plane’s programming has since undergone detailed review and was reworked to eliminate the glitch, with the latest test flights taking place on Sept. 30. During the review, several other potential problems were identified and corrected. A draft of revised training procedures was drawn up, and the FAA said “interested parties” have until Nov. 1 to submit comments or questions.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency started its own tests on the reworked 737 MAX in September and said it will operate at its own pace. This means even if the FAA says the plane is ready for flight in the U.S., the EUAS could say it is not ready to be redeployed in Europe.

FAA chief Steve Dickson last week piloted a Boeing 737 MAX test flight, moving the grounded plane closer to regulatory approval to return to service
FAA chief Steve Dickson last week piloted a Boeing 737 MAX test flight, moving the grounded plane closer to regulatory approval to return to service GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / POOL
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