United Airlines will resume flying passengers on the troubled Boeing 737 Max in February, and Denver will be among the first cities that the airplane will operate to and from.
The airplane was grounded by U.S. regulators for nearly two years after a pair of fatal crashes. Boeing has been working to make safety changes to the Max, the latest variant in the 737’s long run carrying passengers, and get a sign off from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The 737 Max flew paying passengers in the U.S. on Tuesday for the first time since the airplane was grounded. American Airlines flight 718 left Miami International Airport with about 100 passengers and was headed for New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
Last month, the FAA approved changes that Boeing made to an automated flight-control system implicated in crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people in all. In both crashes, the system repeatedly pushed the nose of the aircraft down in response to faulty sensor readings, and pilots were unable to regain control.
That FAA approval cleared the way for U.S. airlines to resume using the plane if certain changes are made and pilots are provided with additional training, including time in a flight simulator.
Brazil’s Gol airlines operated the first passenger flight with a revamped Max on Dec. 9.
Since then, Gol and Aeromexico have between them operated about 600 flights using Max jets, according to tracking service Flightradar24 and aviation-data firm Cirium.
American Airlines plans to make one round trip a day between Miami and New York with Max jets through Jan. 4 before putting the plane on more routes.
United, which operates the most flights of any airline out of Denver International Airport, says the 737 Max will resume carrying its passengers on Feb. 11. The airplane will also operate out of Houston. Specific destinations have not been released.
“Nothing is more important to United than the safety of our customers and employees, so United’s MAX fleet won’t return to service until we have completed more than 1,000 hours of work on every aircraft, including FAA-mandated changes to the flight software, additional pilot training, multiple test flights and meticulous technical analysis to ensure the planes are ready to fly,” the airline said in a written statement to The Colorado Sun. “We will be fully transparent with our customers and will communicate in advance when they are booked to fly on a MAX aircraft.”
United customers who are uncomfortable flying on a 737 Max will have the option to rebook on a different type of plane, free of charge, the airline says.
Southwest Airlines, which also has a hub in Denver, is expected to resume carrying passengers on the 737 Max in March, though the carrier is not sure when the aircraft will be used on routes to and from the Mile High City.
“The Max has not been added to our schedule for 2021 yet, so we don’t have details regarding where it will fly initially once it returns to service,” a Southwest spokeswoman told The Sun.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.