737 MAX to return to skies in Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO: Nearly 21 months after it was grounded following two deadly crashes, the Boeing 737 MAX will return to the skies Wednesday with a flight by Brazilian carrier Gol, the airline confirmed.

Gol, the first company to resume commercial flights with the now-overhauled jet, said it was fully confident in the safety upgrades and expanded pilot training program implemented by Boeing as part of aviation regulators’ conditions to recertify the plane.

“For the past 20 months, we have been carrying out the most intensive safety review in the history of commercial aviation,” Gol’s vice president for operations, Celso Ferrer, said in a statement.

“Safety comes first and foremost.”

The 737 MAX will make its return on an early-morning domestic flight.

A Gol spokesman told AFP that any passenger who did not feel comfortable flying on the 737 MAX would be allowed to reschedule at no cost.

“In the event that a Gol client does not want to travel on the Boeing 737 MAX, they will be able to reschedule the trip without fees or fare difference, maintaining the same origin and destination, within the validity period for the ticket, which is 12 months from the date of purchase,” the spokesman said in an email.

“Exceptional situations will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

Gol, the biggest domestic airline in Brazil, said 140 of its pilots had undergone training on the jet in the United States.

The company said it expected to have its full fleet of seven 737 MAX planes back in the air by the end of the year.

Betting big on Boeing

In fact, Gol is so confident in the plane that it plans to massively expand that fleet.

Gol has confirmed 95 firm orders for the 737 MAX with Boeing, in addition to 20 more already in the US awaiting delivery, the spokesman said.

The MAX was grounded in March 2019 after two crashes that together killed 346 people.

The fallout of the 2018 Lion Air and 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crashes plunged Boeing into crisis — made worse for the US aerospace giant by the upheaval the coronavirus pandemic has brought for the travel industry.

Meant to keep the plane from stalling as it ascends, the automated system instead forced the nose of the plane downward.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered Boeing to revamp the jet and implement new pilot training protocols.

On November 18, it approved the plane to return to service after the upgrades were put in place.

Brazil’s National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) followed suit a week later.

They are the only two aviation regulators to green-light the plane so far.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) began the process of recertifying it last month.

In the US, American Airlines is expected to become the first company to resume commercial service with the 737 MAX, with a flight scheduled for December 29.

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