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Boeing shows off updated 737 Max

China Daily | Updated: 2020-12-04 10:12
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American Airlines employees pose for a photo in front of a 737 Max jet plane before taking off with members of the media from Dallas Fort Worth airport in Grapevine, Texas, on Wednesday. [LM OTERO/AP]

DALLAS-A Boeing 737 Max jet staged its first post-grounding flight with media on board on Wednesday, as carriers seek to demonstrate to passengers that the updated jet is safe after a 20-month safety ban.

In another display of confidence, European budget airline Ryanair was set to place a hefty order for up to 75 additional Max jets, industry sources said.

Wednesday's flight was a 45-minute hop from Dallas, Texas, to Tulsa, Oklahoma. It came weeks before the first commercial passenger flight on Dec 29, and is part of a public relations effort to allay any concerns about the aircraft.

Boeing's bestselling jet was grounded in March 2019 after two crashes in five months killed a combined 346 people, marking the industry's worst safety crisis in decades and undermining US aviation regulatory leadership.

The flight marked the first time anyone besides regulators and industry personnel flew on the Max since the grounding, which ignited investigations focusing on software that overwhelmed pilots.

Reflecting the COVID-19 pandemic that has roiled commercial aviation, each of the roughly 90 journalists, flight attendants and other American Airlines employees on the flight wore face masks.

"The history of aviation is built around a chain of safety," Captain Pete Gamble told passengers just before takeoff.

"When the chain of safety breaks it's up to those of us in the industry to mend it and bring it back."

Design changes

Last month, the US Federal Aviation Administration cleared the jet following updates to key flight-control software and new training.

A smooth return to service for the Max is seen as critical for Boeing's reputation and finances, which have been hit hard by a freeze on Max deliveries as well as the pandemic.

Airlines and leasing companies have spent hundreds of billions of dollars buying the latest upgrade of the jets.

Lured by sharp discounts and anxious to help repair the Max's reputation around which they have built their fleet plans, some airlines are now stepping in to show commercial support.

Boeing is bracing for intense publicity from even routine glitches by manning a 24-hour "situation room" to monitor every Max flight globally, and has briefed some industry commentators on details on the return to service, industry sources said.

"We are continuing to work closely with global regulators and our customers to safely return the fleet to commercial service," a Boeing spokesman said.

Brazil's Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes is planning a media event for the redesigned Max this month.

But crash victims' family members have protested the return to service, saying it is premature before a final investigative report on the second crash, in Ethiopia, has been released.

Agencies Via Xinhua

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