Boeing's 737 MAX resumed passenger flights in the United States for the first time on Tuesday after a 20-month safety ban was lifted last month.
American Airlines Flight 718 landed at New York's LaGuardia Airport at around 1:08 p.m., having departed Miami about two and a half hours earlier. A CNBC reporter said the flight captain's wife and the first officer's mother were both aboard the nearly 1,200-mile flight.
The American and planner Boeing have tried to reassure the public about the safety of the plane after it was approved by US regulators in November to resume flights.
A Reuters / IPSOS survey found that more than half of passengers are wary of taking the jet when reminded of two deadly crashes that led to the ground.
"This plane is ready to take off," US President Robert Isom said before the flight at a news conference in Miami. The airline is confident in the safety of the 737 MAX, he added.
The MAX was grounded for 20 months in March 2019 after 346 people were killed in two fatal accidents in five months. The grounding was lifted last month by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after Boeing agreed to software upgrades and new protections for a major flight control system linked to both fatal crashes.
American's maiden flight between Miami and LaGuardia will follow flight control updates, maintenance work, new pilot training, and town hall meetings with flight crews to guide them through Boeing's changes and address issues.
American is the third airline in the world to resume flights after Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes and Grupo Aeromexico earlier this month. According to the airline data company Cirium, the updated 737 MAX has operated approximately 250 commercial flights between those two airlines.
American Airlines currently has 31,737 MAX aircraft after the delivery of seven additional jets since the FAA lifted its safety ban, including one on Monday and plans to gradually reintroduce the aircraft to its fleet.
The return of the MAX comes at a time when COVID-19 has plunged the industry into its worst crisis, with airlines parking hundreds of planes while demand hovering around 30% from 2019.
When the 737 MAX was grounded, US airlines canceled flights because they had no planes to meet demand, adding to Boeing's financial liability.
Now airlines are delaying aircraft deliveries and do not expect a robust recovery until COVID-19 vaccines are widely available.
Family members of 737 MAX victims are against its return.
“I urge anyone planning to book a flight in the future to find out what type of aircraft will be used when purchasing a ticket so they can make an informed decision for themselves and their loved ones,” said Yalena Lopez-Lewis , whose husband Antoine Lewis died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Tim Hepher in Paris; additional reporting and writing by Tracy Rucinski; edited by Stephen Coates and Nick Zieminski)
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