Regulator signals plan for grounded 737 MAX to return to Europe’s skies

The EU’s aviation regulator has revealed plans to approve the return of 737 MAX to Europe’s skies within weeks.

EASA (the European Union Aviation Safety Agency) has published a proposed airworthiness directive for the aircraft, which has been grounded since March last year after two fatal crashes.

The agency is launching a 28-day consultation and – after reviewing responses – is likely to issue a final directive formally clearing the way for the return of the aircraft in January 2021.

It comes after America’s aviation regulator last week cleared the way for the MAX’s return in the US, with the first flight expected in December.

EASA executive director Patrick Ky said the regulator had made clear that it would conduct its own “objective and independent assessment… to make sure that there can be no repeat of these tragic accidents, which touched the lives of so many people”.

He added: “I am confident that we have left no stone unturned in our assessment of the aircraft with its changed design approach.”

The EASA’s ruling will be valid across EU states, as well as – currently – for the UK.

The decision to withdraw the 737 MAX fleet from service followed the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 disaster outside Addis Ababa in March last year.

All 157 on board were killed.

Six months earlier, a Lion Air 737 MAX, carrying 189 passengers and crew, had crashed in Indonesia.

Changes ordered by EASA before the aircraft can return to the skies are roughly the same as those prescribed by America’s FAA, centring on flight control software known as MCAS.

The MAX crisis forced Boeing to halt not only deliveries of planes to customers but also production – with the fallout costing it more than $20bn in addition to its reputation as a safety first company.

The aircraft’s return is eagerly awaited by airlines as its design promises big reductions to fuel bills.

Ryanair is among customers hoping the addition of the MAX to its fleet will bolster profitability and is still negotiating compensation with Boeing.

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