A flying start: United Airlines gets first Boeing 737 Max to be delivered in 21 months, as troubled jet returns to skies

December 10, 2020

On December 8, Boeing delivered its first 737 Max in 21 months—the first since the Federal Aviation Administration ungrounded the jet last month, The Chicago Tribune reports.

United Airlines Flight 2703 took off from Boeing Field—officially, King County International Airport, five miles south of downtown Seattle—at about 2:30 p.m. (PST), made a check flight toward eastern Washington; then, looped back and arrived at the gate at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport 90 minutes later.

The airline will make some modifications to the plane at Sea-Tac, the Tribune notes—and it is expected to depart for United’s hub in Houston by the end of the week.

This makes United one of the first U.S. air carriers to take delivery on a 737 Max, since two Boeing flights crashed—one on October 29, 2018 moments after takeoff from Indonesia, killing 189 people; and on March 10, 2019, just after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing 157 people.

Since then, the fatal crashes have been attributed to a software error in the Max’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, and have been grounded globally until very recently.

However, United is not the only carrier that is abetting the Boeing comeback: American Airlines has the earliest start date of any U.S. airline for the aircraft—with December 29 seeing the first scheduled flights, more than a month following the FAA’s return-to-service decision. The jet will fly first between Miami and New York before expanding up and down the East Coast and to the Caribbean from American’s 737 Max base in Miami.

Alaska Airlines also is said to have an order in for 13 news 737 Max aircraft, to be delivered in fourth quarter 2021.

According to the Tribune, United won’t fly any passengers on the Max yet. It doesn’t plan to have the jet enter scheduled service until the first quarter of 2021, probably in February.

United pilots will be trained to fly the Max on the airline’s flight simulators in Denver. Once passenger service begins, United will deploy its Maxes from the Denver and Houston hubs.

“As we begin receiving 737 Max deliveries from Boeing, we will inspect every aircraft, require our pilots to undergo additional training reviewed and approved by the FAA, and conduct test flights before we bring these aircraft back into service,” said United spokesperson Frank Benenati.

He said the airline will share a more specific schedule with the public and employees soon.

It remains to be seen whether passengers and crew will be willing to board the new aircraft.

Research contact: @chicagotribune

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