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EASA declares Boeing 737 MAX safe to return to service in Europe
27 January 2021

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) allows return to service of a modified version of the Boeing 737 MAX, mandating a package of software upgrades, electrical working rework, maintenance checks, operations manual updates and crew training.

The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded worldwide in March 2019 following the second of two accidents within just six months, which together claimed 346 lives. The root cause of these tragic accidents was traced to software known as the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), intended to make the plane easier to handle. However, the MCAS, guided by only one Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor, kicked in repeatedly if that sensor malfunctioned, pushing the nose of the aircraft downward multiple times. In both accidents, pilots finally lost control of their plane, resulting in a crash with total loss of aircraft.

In the days after the grounding, EASA set four conditions for the return to service of the aircraft:  
  • The two accidents (JT610 and ET302) are deemed sufficiently understood
  • Design changes proposed by Boeing to address the issues highlighted by the accidents are EASA approved and their embodiment is mandated
  • An  independent extended design review has been completed by EASA 
  • Boeing 737 MAX flight crews have been adequately trained
Resumption of flights in Europe

The Airworthiness Directive, which details the aircraft and operational suitability changes, including crew training requirements, must be carried out before each individual plane returns to service, gives the green light from the EASA side for a return to service of the aircraft. 

However, scheduling of these mandated actions is a matter for the aircraft operators, under the oversight of Member States’ national aviation authorities, meaning that the actual return to service may take some time. COVID-19 may also have an influence on the pace of return to commercial operations.

In conjunction with the Airworthiness Directive, EASA also issued a Safety Directive (SD) requiring non-European airlines which are holders of EASA third country operator (TCO) authorisation to implement equivalent requirements, including aircrew training. This will allow for the return to service of the 737 MAX when the aircraft concerned are operated under an EASA TCO authorisation into, within or out of the territory of the EASA Member States. 

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