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Boeing 737 Max Is Cleared by F.A.A. to Resume Flights

The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday cleared the way for Boeing’s 737 Max to resume flying, 20 months after it was grounded following two fatal crashes blamed on faulty software and a host of company and government failures.

The decision ends a devastating saga for Boeing, which had predicted billions of dollars in losses stemming from the Max crisis even before the coronavirus pandemic dealt a ruinous blow to global aviation. The agency’s chief, Stephen Dickson, signed an order Wednesday formally lifting the grounding.

“The path that led us to this point was long and grueling, but we said from the start that we would take the time necessary to get this right,” he said in a video message. “I am 100 percent comfortable with my family flying on it.”

The Max was grounded worldwide in March 2019 when the F.A.A. joined regulators in dozens of other countries in banning the plane after the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed all 346 people on board.

Investigators have attributed the crashes to a range of problems, including engineering flaws, mismanagement and a lack of federal oversight. At the root was software known as MCAS, which was designed to automatically push the plane’s nose down in certain situations and has been blamed for both crashes.

In August, the F.A.A. determined that a series of proposals by Boeing — including changes to MCAS, flight crew training and the jet’s design — “effectively mitigate” its safety concerns. Mr. Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines pilot, took the controls on a test flight in September, saying he liked what he saw.

In a news conference on Tuesday in anticipation of the F.A.A. announcement, relatives of victims on the second plane that crashed, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, questioned whether Boeing had done enough to address safety concerns with the plane.

“Aviation should not be a trial-and-error process; it should be about safety,” said Naoise Ryan, whose husband, Mick, was aboard that flight on March 10, 2019. “If safety is not prioritized, then these companies should not be in business.”

In a letter to employees, Boeing’s chief executive, David Calhoun, welcomed the lifting of the ban, promising to proceed deliberately with the plane’s return to service and to “never forget” the victims of the crashes.

“We will honor them by holding close the hard lessons learned from this chapter in our history to ensure accidents like these never happen again,” he said.

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Credit…Mulugeta Ayene/Associated Press

Now that the F.A.A. has lifted its grounding order, regulators around the world are expected to follow suit, though some may take their time in wrapping up their own in-depth reviews. The agency has worked with its counterparts in Canada, the European Union and Brazil on revised pilot training requirements for the Max.

Even in the United States, it could be months before the Max starts carrying passengers again. The F.A.A. must still approve pilot training procedures for each U.S. airline operating the Max, planes need to be updated, and airlines suffering from a huge decline in traffic during the pandemic may feel little urgency to act quickly.

On an investor call last month, the American Airlines chief executive, Doug Parker, predicted that the carrier would not resume Max flights before late December if the order came in November.

United Airlines said Wednesday that it expected to start flying the Max in the first quarter of next year after 1,000 hours of work on every plane and “meticulous technical analysis.” Southwest Airlines said it did not expect to resume flights until the second quarter.

The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents nearly 60,000 pilots in North America, including those at United and Delta, said in a statement that it was still reviewing changes to training procedures, but that the proposed engineering fixes “are sound and will be an effective component that leads to the safe return to service.”

The F.A.A. decision removes some uncertainty as Boeing seeks to rehabilitate its reputation, start fulfilling longstanding orders for the Max and manage the sharp slowdown in business caused by the pandemic.

The company has lost more than 1,000 orders this year, mostly for the Max, after accounting for orders that either were canceled or are likely to fall through. Aircraft contracts typically allow buyers to cancel or renegotiate terms if deliveries are delayed, adding to the urgency for Boeing to resume delivering the planes. Still, the company has more than 4,200 orders in its backlog, most of them for the Max.

The single-aisle plane is the latest in Boeing’s 737 line, an industry workhorse widely used by airlines around the world for short to intermediate distances. Southwest, for example, has more than 730 planes, all of them versions of the 737, including 34 Max jets. The airline has more on order, but its chief executive, Gary Kelly, said this week that Southwest was in no rush to expand its fleet.

For decades, Boeing had taken an incremental approach to the 737, choosing to update the plane rather than conceive a new model. That strategy had benefits, including reducing the need for costly pilot retraining. But it also resulted in a patchwork design that sometimes required workarounds. When larger, more efficient engines were added to the plane, they caused the Max to tilt up during certain maneuvers. MCAS — for maneuvering characteristics augmentation system — was programmed to counter that.

In both crashes, faulty sensors activated the software, sending the planes toward the ground as the pilots struggled to pull them back up. In a September report, Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said internal Boeing documents showed that concerns raised by employees about MCAS had been dismissed or insufficiently addressed. That report and one from the Transportation Department’s inspector general accused Boeing of misleading the F.A.A. by playing down the complexity of MCAS, perhaps to avoid costly pilot training.

The House committee also faulted the agency’s practice of outsourcing some certification functions to employees of the companies it oversees.

On Tuesday, the House passed a bipartisan bill aimed at changing F.A.A. certification procedures and requiring an expert panel to review Boeing’s safety culture. The Air Line Pilots Association applauded the legislation, saying that it included much-needed changes to the certification process.

Boeing is nearing the end of a dreadful year. The pandemic has bruised its airline clients, leading to layoffs across the industry. Boeing expects to start 2021 with a global work force of about 130,000, nearly 19 percent fewer than it had at the start of this year. Also, quality concerns have slowed deliveries of its wide-body 787 Dreamliner.

Still, despite the twin crises of the Max grounding and the pandemic, there is hope. Orders for the Max may be difficult to cancel; some airlines, like Southwest, rely exclusively on Boeing planes, making it difficult to switch to the other major manufacturer, Airbus; and the Max offers savings on maintenance and fuel that may be difficult for some to pass up, especially as corporate clients pressure airlines to cut carbon footprints.

Boeing’s stock has risen more than 40 percent this month, with investors encouraged by news from Pfizer and Moderna that coronavirus vaccines under development appear to be highly effective.

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House Report Condemns Boeing and FAA in 737 Max Crashes

The two fatal crashes that killed 346 people aboard Boeing’s 737 Max and led to the worldwide grounding of the plane were the “horrific culmination” of engineering flaws, mismanagement and a severe lack of federal oversight, the Democratic majority on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said in a report on Wednesday.

The report, which condemns both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration for safety failures, concludes an 18-month investigation based on interviews with two dozen Boeing and agency employees and an estimated 600,000 pages of records. Over more than 200 pages, the Democrats argue that Boeing emphasized profits over safety and that the agency granted the company too much sway over its own oversight.

“This is a tragedy that never should have happened,” Representative Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, the committee chairman, said. “It could have been prevented, and we’re going to take steps in our legislation to see that it never happens again.”

Representative Sam Graves of Missouri, the committee’s top Republican, said that while change was needed, congressional action should be based on nonpartisan recommendations, “not a partisan investigative report.”

The report was issued as the F.A.A. appeared close to lifting its grounding order for the Max after test flights this summer. F.A.A. clearance could lead aviation authorities elsewhere to follow suit and allow the plane to fly again as soon as this winter.

The congressional report identified five broad problems with the plane’s design, construction and certification. First, the race to compete with the new Airbus A320neo led Boeing to make production goals and cost-cutting a higher priority than safety, the Democrats argued. Second, the company made deadly assumptions about software known as MCAS, which was blamed for sending the planes into nosedives. Third, Boeing withheld critical information from the F.A.A. Fourth, the agency’s practice of delegating oversight authority to Boeing employees left it in the dark. And finally, the Democrats accused F.A.A. management of siding with Boeing and dismissing its own experts.

“These issues must be addressed by both Boeing and the F.A.A. in order to correct poor certification practices that have emerged, reassess key assumptions that affect safety and enhance transparency to enable more effective oversight,” the committee said.

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Credit…Mulugeta Ayene/Associated Press

The findings are largely in line with an abundance of information uncovered by federal investigators, news reporters and the committee’s preliminary findings after the crashes in Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopia in March 2019.

Those crashes were caused in part by the MCAS system aboard the Max. Because the engines on the Max are larger and placed higher than on its predecessor, they could cause the jet’s nose to push upward in some circumstances. MCAS was designed to push the nose back down. In both crashes, the software was activated by faulty sensors, sending the planes toward the ground as the pilots struggled to pull them back up.

The deaths could have been avoided, however, if not for a series of safety lapses at Boeing and the F.A.A., the Democrats argued.

Internal communications show that Boeing dismissed or failed to adequately address concerns raised by employees relating to MCAS and its reliance on a single external sensor, the committee found. It also accused Boeing of intentionally misleading F.A.A. representatives, echoing a July report from the Transportation Department’s inspector general.

That report found that Boeing had failed to share critical information with regulators about important changes to MCAS; had been slow to share a formal safety risk assessment with the agency; and had chosen to portray the software as a modification to an existing system rather than a new one, in part to ease the certification process.

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Credit…Beawiharta Beawiharta/Reuters

The Democrats on the committee also accused Boeing of putting a priority on profits by strongly opposing a requirement that pilots receive simulator training to fly the plane. Under a 2011 contract with Southwest Airlines, for example, Boeing promised to discount each of the 200 planes in the airline’s order by $1 million if the F.A.A. ended up requiring simulator training for pilots moving from an earlier version of the aircraft, the 737NG, to the Max.

“That drove a whole lot of really bad decisions internally in Boeing, and the F.A.A. did not pick up on these things,” Mr. DeFazio said.

In a statement, Boeing said it had learned lessons from the crashes and had started to act on the recommendations of experts and government authorities.

“Boeing cooperated fully and extensively with the committee’s inquiry since it began in early 2019,” the company said in a statement. “We have been hard at work strengthening our safety culture and rebuilding trust with our customers, regulators and the flying public.”

The revised Max design has received extensive review, Boeing said, arguing that once the plane is ready to fly again, “it will be one of the most thoroughly scrutinized aircraft in history.”

The F.A.A. said in a statement that it would work with the committee to carry out any recommended changes and was already making some of its own.

“These initiatives are focused on advancing overall aviation safety by improving our organization, processes and culture,” it said.

Last month, the agency announced plans to require a number of design changes to the Max before it can fly again, including updating MCAS and rerouting some internal wiring. The proposed requirement is open for public comment until next week.

Despite the damage to Boeing’s reputation, the Max has customers that cannot break contracts with the company, are attracted by the promise of longer-term fuel savings or otherwise still want the plane in their fleet. Still, Boeing warned in January that the Max grounding would cost more than $18 billion. The severe downturn in travel because of the pandemic only made matters worse, contributing to the company’s decision to cut more than 10 percent of its work force.

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Boeing 787 Dreamliner Deliveries Slowed by Quality Concerns

Boeing said Tuesday that it expected deliveries of its popular 787 Dreamliner to be delayed as it and the Federal Aviation Administration look into quality control concerns with the plane, a wide-body jet capable of carrying hundreds of passengers long distances.

Last month, the company said it had grounded eight planes already in service for inspection and repair after finding that it had fallen short of its manufacturing standards. On Tuesday, Boeing said it had identified another failure to abide by its own guidelines during production of a horizontal stabilizer, though it said there was no immediate safety risk.

“We are taking time to thoroughly inspect completed 787s to ensure that they are free of the issues and meet all engineering specifications prior to delivery,” the company said in a statement. “We expect these inspections to affect the timing of 787 deliveries in the near-term.”

Boeing said the new problem stemmed from excess force in assembling components of the stabilizer at its Salt Lake City facility and could affect the part’s life span. A total of 893 airplanes are believed to be affected, the company said, and it is examining whether repairs are needed on any jets now in service.

The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating the company for manufacturing flaws related to the plane.

“The agency continues to engage with Boeing,” the agency said on Monday. “It is too early to speculate about the nature or extent of any proposed airworthiness directives that might arise.”

Boeing shares fell nearly 6 percent on Tuesday after The Wall Street Journal, citing agency documents, reported that the F.A.A. was considering requiring deeper inspections of most of the approximately 1,000 Dreamliners delivered since 2011.

The Dreamliner is a star of Boeing’s lineup, a relatively fuel-efficient twin-aisle airplane suited to international service. The jet’s biggest customers include All Nippon Airways, United Airlines, Japan Airlines, American Airlines, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Air Canada.

Production concerns with the plane are longstanding. More than a year ago, a review by The New York Times of hundreds of internal and federal records and interviews with current and former staff members found a culture that emphasized speed over quality at Boeing’s plant in North Charleston, S.C., one of two where the Dreamliner is produced. The other is in Everett, Wash.

In some cases, employee concerns were brushed aside as the company sought to cut long manufacturing delays, the investigation of the South Carolina plant found. In addition, Boeing’s practices had attracted the scrutiny of regulators and its own airline customers. Qatar Airways, for example, had stopped accepting planes from the factory. Nearly a dozen workers had filed complaints with federal regulators. And last month, the F.A.A. proposed fining Boeing $1.25 million for failing to protect the independence of the agency’s representatives at the plant.

The concerns over Dreamliner production follow those raised about the Boeing 737 Max, which has been grounded since March 2019 after 346 people were killed in a pair of fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. This year, the House Transportation Committee’s Democratic majority accused Boeing of overlooking safety in the interest of meeting manufacturing goals for the Max and said the F.A.A. too willingly yielded to Boeing’s influence.

After a long review, the agency said last month that Boeing had “effectively mitigated” defects in the Max, potentially clearing the way for the plane to fly again this winter.

Many of the Boeing Dreamliners are grounded as air travel remains deeply depressed. Worldwide, domestic traffic fell 58 percent in July compared with the same month last year, according to the International Air Transport Association, an industry group. International demand was down 92 percent.

That month, Boeing said it was slashing production of the jet as its airline customers struggled to deal with the deep decline in travel. It also announced that it would study consolidating work on the plane at one plant, a move that the machinists union in Washington has criticized as a smoke screen to move operations to South Carolina, where workers are not unionized.

The study “may simply be masking a decision that is already made,” Jon Holden, president of the union, District 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said in a recent newsletter to members. The editorial board of The Seattle Times called on Washington’s governor to prevent such a move.

Between the Max crisis and the pandemic, Boeing’s business has been buffeted this year. Through August, the company lost a net 378 orders, the company said Tuesday. It gained a net 54 orders last year and 893 in 2018.

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Airbus to Cut 15,000 Jobs

PARIS — The coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc on global aviation as the aerospace giant Airbus announced Tuesday that it would cut nearly 15,000 jobs across its global work force, the largest downsizing in the company’s history.

Citing a 40 percent slump in commercial aircraft business activity and an “unprecedented crisis” facing the airline industry, Airbus said it would slash around 10 percent of its jobs worldwide, with layoffs hitting operations in France, Germany, Spain and Britain.

The chief executive, Guillaume Faury, had been preparing employees for hard times in a series of recent memos in which he warned it would be necessary to adapt to a “lasting decline” in the demand for airliners. The company said Tuesday that it didn’t expect air travel to return to pre-virus levels before 2023 and potentially not until 2025.

“Airbus is facing the gravest crisis this industry has ever experienced,” Mr. Faury said in a statement Tuesday. “We must ensure that we can sustain our enterprise and emerge from the crisis as a healthy, global aerospace leader, adjusting to the overwhelming challenges of our customers.”

The layoffs are a stunning reversal of fortune for the world’s largest plane maker, which was founded 50 years ago.

In February, as its U.S. rival, Boeing, stumbled from the yearlong grounding of its 737 Max plane, Airbus faced a large backlog of orders. Production of its A320 jet — the main competitor to the 737 Max and the bulk of Airbus’s commercial business — was months behind schedule because of slowdowns at some of its European factories.

As the coronavirus pandemic brought much of global air travel to a halt, Airbus’s fortunes tumbled with the rest of the aviation industry. Airlines are now planning for years of reduced passenger demand, and this means less need for new planes.

The company is shedding 5,000 of its 49,000 employees in France, 5,100 of 45,500 positions in Germany, 900 of 12,500 workers in Spain and 1,700 of 11,000 positions in Britain. Another 1,300 will be cut at other Airbus sites around the world, and about 900 are part of a previously planned restructuring.

The job losses will need to be discussed with labor unions at its European operations, Airbus said, and are expected to be completed no later than next summer. The company will seek to meet its goals through voluntary departures, early retirement and long-term partial unemployment schemes where appropriate, it said.

The French government, which has been trying to prevent waves of layoffs by supporting businesses, called the number of layoffs “excessive.” “We expect Airbus to use tools made available by the government to reduce the number of job cuts,” a spokesman at the Finance Ministry said.

Airbus had already begun cutting production of its popular A320 single-aisle aircraft and A350 long-range jets in April by around a third, when quarantines to contain the pandemic were in effect across Europe. That was a 40 decline from the number of planes the company had planned make in 2020 and 2021.

Research published last week by the International Air Transport Association warned that airlines in Europe were set to lose $21.5 billion in 2020 as passenger demand plunged by over half because of continued global travel restrictions.

Boeing announced 16,000 job cuts in late April after its chief executive, David L. Calhoun, said the coronavirus had created “utterly unexpected challenges.”

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


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