New York (CNN Business)On Wednesday, Brazilian airline GOL will become the first airline in the world to fly passengers on the Boeing 737 Max in almost two years, the airline announced late Monday.
The plane was cleared to carry passengers again by the US Federal Aviation Administration on November 18. So far Brazil is the only other country whose aviation regulator has cleared the plane to fly passengers, although authorities in Europe and Canada are close to doing so.
The plane was grounded by aviation authorities around the globe in March of 2019 following two fatal crashes that killed 346 people.
GOL (GOL), Brazil’s largest domestic airline, said it will use the plane on routes to and from its hub in São Paulo, the nation’s largest city, although it did not disclose the exact route for the first flights.
It said passengers will be informed that their flight now will be flown on the 737 Max, and any passengers who do not want to fly on the plane will have their tickets exchanged for flights using other equipment.
GOL flies nothing but Boeing (BA) aircraft in its fleet of 127 jets, making it a major customer for the aircraft maker. It has seven of the 737 Max planes in its fleet. It expects to have all seven back in service by the end of December. It also has orders for 95 other 737 Max planes, and is scheduled to take delivery of those aircraft between 2022 and 2032.
The three US airlines which own the Max, American Airlines (AAL), United (UAL) and Southwest (LUV), have been slower to reintroduce the plane into service.
American will be the first of the three to use the plane on flights between Miami and New York on Dec. 29. United said last month it expects to start flying the planes in the first three months of 2021. Southwest, which has 34 of the jets — more than any other airline — isn’t expected to fly passengers on the 737 Max until spring 2021.
GOL said it is confident that the changes made in the plane during its 20-month grounding make its safe to fly. A safety mechanism designed to stop the plane from climbing too fast and stalling was responsible for pushing down the noses of the two fatal flights, causing the crashes. The plane now has extra sensors to protect against false readings that would trigger that safety mechanism.
“We are pleased about the return of the Boeing 737 Max to our network,” said GOL CEO Paulo Kakinoff. “The Max is one of the most efficient aircraft in aviation history and the only one to undergo a complete recertification process, ensuring the highest levels of safety and reliability. We reiterate our trust in Boeing.”
GOL also said it conducted additional training for 140 of its pilots who will fly the Max on how to handle the new safety systems on the plane.
“It is a pleasure to be partners with GOL in reaching this important milestone and we look forward to what is yet to come in our partnership,” said Landon Loomis, Boeing’s managing director in Brazil.
This is the second major show of confidence in the plane by an airline this month. Last week Irish discount carrier Ryanair (RYAAY) announced it was ordering an additional 75 737 Max planes on top of an earlier order for 135 737 Max planes.
But other airlines have canceled orders for 565 of the planes through October 31 of this year, with 448 of those order cancellations coming this year alone. Most of the canceled orders were due to the sharp drop in air travel caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the need for airlines to preserve their cash.
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