United Airlines took delivery of a 737 Max jet from Boeing Tuesday, becoming the first carrier to receive one of the planes since regulators lifted a grounding order last month after nearly two years.
The Federal Aviation Administration in mid-November removed its flight ban on the planes, ending the protracted grounding prompted by two crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed all 346 people on board the flights. The milestone cleared the path for Boeing to resume deliveries to customers.
The first delivery of a plane off Boeing's Renton, Washington, production line is a relief to the company that halted deliveries after the March 2019 grounding, which drove up costs and deprived Boeing of cash. Analysts don't expect the company to return to positive free cash flow until the end of 2021.
Since the grounding Boeing changed a flight-control system that was implicated in both crashes to give pilots greater control, and added more redundancies on board. The updates will be included on the plane and others United will receive directly from Boeing. Pilots will also have to go through flight simulator training, a step that wasn't required when the FAA first signed off on the planes in 2017.
"Nothing is more important to United than the safety of our customers and employees, and as we begin receiving 737 MAX deliveries from Boeing, we will inspect every aircraft, require our pilots to undergo additional training reviewed and approved by the FAA, and conduct test flights before we bring these aircraft back into service," United said in a statement.
Deliveries are key for Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers because it's when airlines pay the bulk of the plane's price. The Max crisis was compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated demand for air travel and new jetliners.
United, which had 14 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes in its fleet at the time of the grounding, plans to start flying the jets again commercially in the first quarter. Brazilian airline Gol is set to become the first airline to fly the Max commercially again since they were grounded, while American Airlines is on track to become the first U.S. carrier to resume commercial flights with the upgraded Max on Dec. 29.