Boeing 737 MAX 8 Returns To The Skies As FAA Lifts Grounding Order

Update (0830ET): In an email to employees heralding the FAA's decision, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun insisted that Boeing would "never forget" the 346 victims of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights that crashed minutes after takeoff, while insisting that Boeing had accomplished "meaningful changes" including "strengthening the Engineering function, establishing a Product & Services Safety organization, and implementing an enterprise-wide Safety Management System, among others."

"Every next plane we deliver is an opportunity to rebuild our brand and regain trust," he added. Read the email below.

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Update (0805ET): The FAA has officially lifted the 737 MAX 8's grounding order.

Here's the full statement:

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson today signed an order (PDF) that paves the way for the Boeing 737 MAX to return to commercial service. Administrator Dickson’s action followed a comprehensive and methodical safety review process (PDF) that took 20 months to complete. During that time, FAA employees worked diligently to identify and address the safety issues that played a role in the tragic loss of 346 lives aboard Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Throughout our transparent process, we cooperated closely with our foreign counterparts on every aspect of the return to service. Additionally, Administrator Dickson personally took the recommended pilot training and piloted the Boeing 737 MAX, so he could experience the handling of the aircraft firsthand.

In addition to rescinding the order that grounded the aircraft, the FAA today published an Airworthiness Directive (PDF) specifying design changes that must be made before the aircraft returns to service, issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC), and published the MAX training requirements. (PDF) These actions do not allow the MAX to return immediately to the skies. The FAA must approve 737 MAX pilot training program revisions for each U.S. airline operating the MAX and will retain its authority to issue airworthiness certificates and export certificates of airworthiness for all new 737 MAX aircraft manufactured since the FAA issued the grounding order. Furthermore, airlines that have parked their MAX aircraft must take required maintenance steps to prepare them to fly again.

The design and certification of this aircraft included an unprecedented level of collaborative and independent reviews by aviation authorities around the world. Those regulators have indicated that Boeing’s design changes, together with the changes to crew procedures and training enhancements, will give them the confidence to validate the aircraft as safe to fly in their respective countries and regions. Following the return to service, the FAA will continue to work closely with our foreign civil aviation partners to evaluate any potential additional enhancements for the aircraft. The agency also will conduct the same rigorous, continued operational safety oversight of the MAX that we provide for the entire U.S. commercial fleet.

Now, we wait and see how the world reacts.

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The big day has finally arrived: Boeing shares are climbing in premarket trading Wednesday on reports the FAA Administrator Steve Dickson is set to finally release the 737 MAX 8 from a grounding order that has endured for more than 18 months.

WSJ reported Wednesday morning that the official order is expected shortly. After the grounding order is lifted, airlines will be free to return the 737 MAX 8 to service - for domestic routes, at least. Though the rest of the world is expected to follow the FAA's lead, a new level of distrust has built up among international aviation regulators over the last year.

International regulators grounded the 737 MAX 8 following a devastating crash in Ethiopia, the second suspicious crash involving the 737 MAX 8 in the span of 6 months. In total, the crashes killed nearly 350 passengers and crew.

Since the incident, Congressional investigations have revealed corruption of the approval process for the new plane, as the FAA ceded an unprecedented level of oversight to units within Boeing. Later, internal emails revealed some engineers griping about the plane's design, complaining that it was "designed by clowns, who are supervised by monkeys."

Boeing shares were up 5% in recent trade, leaving the Dow component on track for a pretty hefty daily gain.