United Airways getting first 737 Max from Boeing since 20-month grounding

A United Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft lands at San Francisco International Airport in Burlingame, California on March 13, 2019.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

United Airlines will pick up a Boeing 737 Max jet on Tuesday, making it the first airline to receive one of the planes since regulators lifted a basic order last month after almost two years.

The Federal Aviation Administration lifted the flight ban on aircraft in mid-November, ending the lengthy landing triggered by two crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed all 346 people on board the flights. The milestone paved the way for Boeing to resume deliveries to customers.

The first delivery of an aircraft off Boeing’s production line in Renton, Washington, is a relief for the company, which stopped deliveries after priming in March 2019, which increased costs and took Boeing the money. Analysts don’t expect the company to return to positive free cash flow by the end of 2021.

Since landing, Boeing has changed a flight control system that was involved in both crashes to give pilots better control and added more redundancy on board. The updates will be included on the aircraft and others will receive United direct from Boeing. Pilots are also required to complete flight simulator training, a step that wasn’t required when the FAA first de-registered the aircraft in 2017.

“Nothing is more important to United than the safety of our customers and employees. As soon as we receive 737 MAX shipments from Boeing, we will inspect each aircraft, request additional training from our pilots that has been reviewed and approved by the FAA, and test flights before we put these planes back into service, “United said in a statement.

Deliveries are vital for Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers as the airlines pay most of the aircraft price. The Max crisis was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has destroyed demand for air travel and new planes.

United, which had 14 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft in its fleet at the time of landing, plans to return to commercial flying the jets in the first quarter. Brazilian airline Gol will be the first airline to return to commercial flying the Max since its inception, while American Airlines is on track to be the first US carrier to resume commercial flights with the upgraded Max on December 29th records.

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