Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX Resumes Flight Operations

Ethiopian Airlines executives joined media, regulatory officials, and executives from Boeing on a demonstration flight Tuesday, Feb. 1, to mark its official return of the 737 MAX to passenger-carrying operations in Ethiopia. (Ethiopian Airlines)

Ethiopian Airlines has returned its Boeing 737 MAX to regular passenger-carrying operations nearly three years after the African carrier’s fatal accident that led to a 19-month grounding of the aircraft model.

On March 10, 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX operating as flight ET302 fatally crashed near Ejere, Ethiopia, a few minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, killing all 157 passengers and crew members on board. Ethiopian has become one of the last 737 MAX operators to return the aircraft to service, after global review of an update to the way the aircraft’s flight control software and system works first allowed it to resume flying in November 2020.

Ethiopia’s Civil Aviation Authority released an interim accident investigation report on the crash in March 2020, although a final investigation report has never been published. On Tuesday, Ethiopian Airlines executives joined media, aviation regulatory officials, and others on a  demonstration flight to mark the aircraft’s official return to service in Ethiopia.

In a Feb. 1 press statement, Ethiopian Group CEO Tewolde GebreMariam said the airline has “taken enough time to monitor the design modification work and the more than 20 months of rigorous recertification process and we have ensured that our pilots, engineers, aircraft technicians, and cabin crew are confident on the safety of the fleet.”

Ethiopian Airlines flight crew members joined executives, regulatory officials, and media for a demonstration flight Tuesday. (Ethiopian Airlines)

Since civil aviation authorities first started approving the aircraft’s return to service in late 2020, the MAX has accumulated more than 349,000 commercial flights and close to 900,000 total flight hours. Boeing received more than 700 net orders for MAX aircraft from airlines last year, and completed a total of 263 MAX deliveries in 2021.

Civil aviation authorities ranging from the Federal Aviation Administration to European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) among others required improvements to the overall functionality of the MAX’s maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) and its associated systems and components along with some required manual and pilot training updates.

Boeing reached a legal settlement agreement with families of the passengers and crew members killed in the 2019 ET302 crash in November that allowed the company to consolidate its 737 MAX legal issues and claims to the U.S., while allowing victims’ families to access the U.S. legal system, according to an Associated Press report from November. Several relatives of passengers that died in the ET302 crash have also requested a re-opening of a previous settlement announced by the Department of Justice last year that shielded Boeing from criminal prosecution related to the crash, according to a more recent report.

“The airline’s confidence is further showcased by flying the top executives and the board chairman and other top government officials on the first flight,” GebreMariam said.

Ethiopian Airlines has four B737 MAX in its fleet and 25 remaining on order, with some scheduled for delivery later this year.

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