On board a Boeing 737 MAX (Brazil) (AFP)
More than 20 months after being stranded in two fatal crashes, the Boeing 737 MAX returned to the skies on Wednesday with a commercial flight to Brazil, AFP journalists on board said.
Low cost airline Gol flight 4104 from Sao Paulo to the southern city of Porto Alegre took off using the revamped jet in a first that Boeing hopes will turn the page on a very damaging crisis as a result of the two accidents.
Most of the passengers on the 88% booked, 90-minute flight barely noticed the model number painted on the nose of the plane, and Gol did not make a big splash for the occasion.
“Good to know,” said a passenger, informed by an AFP journalist, that the flight would be the first to use the 737 MAX since its worldwide grounding in March 2019.
“If it’s here, that must mean it’s safe, right?” Said the man, who asked that his name not be used.
The pilot – one of 140 at Gol who received updated special training in the United States on the revised jet – raised a thumb from the cockpit window as passengers boarded the plane.
– ‘Safety first’ –
Gol, the first company to resume commercial flights with the now revised jet, said it was fully confident in the safety upgrades and the expanded pilot training program being implemented by Boeing under the conditions of the aviation regulators to recertify the aircraft.
“In the past 20 months, we have conducted the most intensive safety review in commercial aviation history,” Gol vice president of operations Celso Ferrer said in a statement.
“Safety comes first. ”
A spokesperson for Gol told AFP that any passenger who does not feel comfortable flying the 737 MAX will be allowed to defer free of charge for up to 12 months from the date of purchase.
“Exceptional situations will be assessed on a case-by-case basis,” he said in an email.
Gol, Brazil’s largest national airline, said it plans to get its full fleet of seven 737 MAX back in flight by the end of the year.
The airline also confirmed 95 firm orders for the 737 MAXs with Boeing, in addition to 20 more already in the United States awaiting delivery.
– “We are in heaven!” –
The MAX came to a standstill in March 2019 after two crashes that killed 346 people.
The fallout from the Lion Air 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines 2019 crashes plunged Boeing into crisis.
Investigators identified a root cause of both accidents as a faulty flight management system known as the Maneuver Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.
Designed to prevent the aircraft from stalling as it climbed, the automated system instead forced the nose of the aircraft down.
The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ordered Boeing to revamp the aircraft and implement new pilot training protocols.
On November 18, he approved the aircraft’s return to service after the upgrades were in place.
Brazil’s National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) followed suit a week later.
They are the only two aviation regulators to have given the aircraft the green light so far.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) began the recertification process last month.
The crew of the Gol flight told AFP they were moved to be involved at such a key moment for the airline industry, which has been battered not only by the Boeing crisis but by the upheaval of the pandemic of coronavirus.
However, Gol strictly adhered to the routine procedure on board the aircraft, going through the pre-flight protocol without mentioning the remarkable nature of the occasion.
The passengers, who were all wearing face masks, didn’t seem to notice when the captain mentioned the plane’s model number.
In these troubled times for world travel, however, there was still a moment of magic for at least one passenger.
“We are in Heaven! Cried a young child as the jet took off.
© 2020 AFP