American Airlines on Tuesday launched the first commercial flight of a Boeing 737 MAX in the United States since the plane was grounded worldwide following two deadly crashes that killed hundreds and plunged the airplane manufacturer into crisis.
The MAX was Boeing's top-selling aircraft, and the company struggled through the nearly two years that the plane was barred from skies globally, a situation made worse by the sharp slowdown in travel caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Boeing has worked with regulators to address technical issues and improve pilot training on the MAX, leading countries to allow it to return to service, starting with a domestic flight by Brazilian budget carrier Gol earlier this month.
The first of the US carriers to return the plane to service, American flight 718 carrying about 100 passengers took off from Miami bound for New York's La Guardia airport around 1544 GMT, an AFP video journalist at the airport said.
"This is an aircraft that has been more highly scrutinized than any ever before. We're very confident that this aircraft is the safest in the skies," the airline's president Robert Isom said before the flight's departure.
The plane was due to land in New York around 1730 GMT, the airline told AFP in an email Tuesday, from where the return flight back to Miami, with nearly all the 172 seats sold, is scheduled to depart at 1930 GMT.
United Airlines is due to return the MAX to its US fleet with flights beginning on February 11, and Southwest Airlines, which has the largest MAX fleet, said it will restart service in the second quarter of 2021.
- Victims' families object -
The return comes after the Federal Aviation Administration in late November cleared the jet to fly again following upgrades to its software and new pilot training protocols.
The MAX crisis began with a 2018 crash of the jet in Indonesia, followed by another in March 2019 in Ethiopia, which killed a total of 346 people and saw the aircraft taken out of service across the globe.
Airlines canceled numerous orders for the plane but as it neared a return to service Boeing reported new orders in recent weeks, indicating the company's fortunes may be reversing.
The return has however not been entirely smooth. Families of the crash victims continue to oppose allowing the aircraft to fly, saying it is unsafe.
"A corporation that continues to manipulate due diligence and to cut corners in matters of life and death should not be trusted with human life," said Zipporah Kuria, whose father died in the crash in Ethiopia.
"As the families who paid the cost and have been forced to eat the fruit of Boeing's deceptive patterns, this will not end well."
An Air Canada MAX flying last week from Arizona to Montreal with three crew members on board experienced an engine problem that forced it to land in Tucson.