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Southwest Airlines

Almost two years exactly since the Boeing 737 Max was grounded in the US, Southwest Airlines put the airplane back into service Thursday. The low-cost carrier is the last US airline to resume Max passenger flights, following similar decisions by American and United, and Alaska’s move to add the airliner to its fleet.

In a statement posted Wednesday, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said he experienced a quiet and smooth ride when he joined one of the more than 200 Max readiness flights that the airline has conducted since late last year. “To be clear, I have the utmost confidence in our ability to safely operate the Boeing 737 MAX,” he said. “I hope you will be reassured, as I am, to know all that has gone into making the MAX among the most-reviewed planes in the world.”

On March 13, 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the 737 Max in the US, becoming the last major country in the world to ground the plane. The decision came after two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed a combined total of 346 people.

The FAA lifted the grounded order 18 months later, on Nov. 19, on the condition that Boeing and airlines modify the flight control system blamed for both crashes and increase pilot training. In his March 10 statement, Kelly detailed the software changes and said Southwest’s pilots will complete simulator training before being allowed back into the cockpit.

“These changes have been reviewed and approved by the FAA, he said. “With these enhancements, I am confident we will be ready to operate the MAX in accordance with the FAA’s requirements.” 

Though American resumed 737 Max flights initially on its New York La Guardia to Miami route, Southwest won’t be limiting the plane to certain routes. And, as spotted by aviation journalist Jason Rabinowitz this morning, a handful of Max Southwest aircraft were flying all over the country.

Through May 31, passengers booked on a Max flight (you can find your aircraft type on your itinerary) can change to a flight on an earlier 737 version without paying a fee (but subject to availability). If they don’t wish to fly at all, they can get a refund or a credit for future travel, depending on their ticket type (contact Southwest for the exact terms).

In addition to the FAA, other safety agencies around the world have lifted their own grounding orders after conducting independent reviews of the aircraft. The list includes the EU, Brazil, Canada, the UK, Australia and most recently Argentina.  



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