Alaska Airlines plans to begin flying the Boeing 737 Max in March for the first time, joining other airlines intending to put the Max into service after federal regulators this week cleared it for use following two fatal crashes.
“Before the Max is added to our fleet, our team of pilots, maintenance technicians and safety experts will put the plane through its paces — flying more than 19,000 miles and over 50 flight hours to test the aircraft,” Alaska Airlines said on its website in an extensive post stressing safety measures.
“We will activate our training programs and make sure our employees are ready. We’ve been closely testing, verifying and implementing all the necessary processes to ensure the Max aircraft meets our high safety standards," the statement said.
Regulators worldwide grounded the 737 Max in March 2019 after two deadly Max-8 crashes within five months, the Lion Air Flight 610 that took off from Indonesia and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 that took off from Ethiopia. Investigators found that flawed sensors and software contributed to pushing the nose down repeatedly in both cases, leading to the crashes.
The Federal Aviation Administration removed the grounding on Wednesday, in an agreement with other regulatory agencies globally. The Max planes can fly after Boeing updates their computer systems and pilots receive training in flight simulators.
American, Southwest and United airlines plan to return the Max planes to service in the coming weeks and months, according to the Seattle Times.
Reduced carbon emissions, quieter cabins and longer flights to new destinations are among the Max’s benefits, according to the Alaska Airlines statement.
Alaska Airlines expects to receive six of the 737 Max-9 planes next year — a different model than the Max-8s involved in the crash — with the first expected in January.
“We’ve ordered 32 MAX 9s, with another 37 MAX options," the website says.
The Alaska Airlines website also includes information customers can use to determine if the flight they are booking will be on a Max.
The initial Alaska Airlines Max-9 flights will be on Seattle-Los Angeles, Seattle-San Diego, Portland-Las Vegas and Portland-Los Angeles routes, the website says. After several months of operation, the company expects to begin Max-9 flights to the East Coast.
The planes will be qualified to fly to Hawaii as well, the website said. It did not say when the Max-9 would begin flying to Hawaii.
“We have a proud history of flying the Boeing 737, and we look forward to continuing that history with this updated version of the world’s most flown make of the aircraft,” Alaska Airlines said.