A modified version of the Boeing 737 Max, incorporating multiple safety upgrades, has been approved to resume flights in Europe, the European aviation safety agency said.
The decision follows nearly two years of reviews after the aircraft was involved in two deadly crashes that saw the planes grounded worldwide.
Changes mandated by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) include a package of software upgrades, a reworking of the electrical system, maintenance checks, operations manual updates and new crew training.
“We have reached a significant milestone on a long road,” said EASA executive director Patrick Ky.
“Following extensive analysis by EASA, we have determined that the 737 MAX can safely return to service. This assessment was carried out in full independence of Boeing or the Federal Aviation Administration and without any economic or political pressure – we asked difficult questions until we got answers and pushed for solutions which satisfied our exacting safety requirements.
“We carried out our own flight tests and simulator sessions and did not rely on others to do this for us.”
The planes were grounded in March 2019 following the crashes of a Lion Air flight near Jakarta on October 29 2018, and an Ethiopian Airlines flight on March 10 2019, killing a total of 346 people.
Investigators determined that the cause of the crashes was a faulty computer system that pushed the plane’s nose downward in flight and could not be overridden by pilots.
Changes mandated by the EASA, based in Cologne, Germany, include a recertification of the plane’s flight-control system, which was not a part of previous 737 models.
Mr Ky said the EASA will continue to monitor 737 Max operations closely as the aircraft resumes service.
“Let me be quite clear that this journey does not end here,” he said.
Despite the green-light from the EASA, the actual return of the aircraft to the skies of Europe may still take some time.
Airlines will still need to ensure their pilots have received the training needed to fly the plane, and that the maintenance and changes necessary have been carried out after the long grounding.
Some EU states will have to lift their own individual grounding notices as well.
The pandemic, meanwhile, has caused severe travel restrictions. Many airlines are flying a fraction of their usual routes, which the EASA said could affect the pace of the aircraft’s return to commercial operations.
The 737 Max returned to the skies in the United States last month, after the Federal Aviation Administration approved changes that Boeing made to the automated flight control system.
It has also been allowed by Brazil to resume flights, and has been cleared by Transport Canada.