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Boeing 737 MAX jets stored in Seattle, Washington. Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday cleared Boeing's 737 MAX to fly again in the U.S. — 20 months after the plane’s worldwide grounding.

Why it matters: A pair of fatal plane crashes laid bare the gross oversight and safety lapses on the part of Boeing and the FAA. The fallout led to the resignation of top executives — including Boeing's CEO — a criminal investigation, and the company’s biggest financial hit in its centurylong history.

The state of play: The planes likely won’t be in the air for several more weeks, if not months. Airlines will need to update the flight software, and pilots will need training.

  • International aviation regulators are expected to follow the FAA’s lead and lift bans on the MAX.

Catch up quick: In both MAX crashes — which killed 346 people — pilots lost control of the MAX when a sensor in its flight control system malfunctioned and relentlessly pushed the nose of the plane downward.

  • There was no backup sensor. Pilots weren’t adequately trained on the flight control system and couldn’t counteract quickly enough.
  • Boeing has made software changes — including ones that limit the system’s capability to push the plane's nose down. The FAA conducted a series of certification test flights of the MAX.

The big picture: Orders of the company’s best-seller were expected to rebound after the ungrounding. That was before the pandemic hit — and before fears about contracting the virus led to a collapse in travel.

  • The unprecedented travel slump means airlines don’t need more MAX jets — or any other new planes.
  • Boeing is closer now to offloading its 450 MAX jets sitting in storage, though some airlines have pushed off deliveries of previously ordered planes or canceled them altogether.

The bottom line: Even when consumers do feel safe to fly again, the MAX will have to overcome the reputational damage from the crashes.

Read the FAA's notice.

Go deeper

Nov 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump's Air Force One problem

Boeing model of what the new Air Force One 747s will look like if Biden chooses to keep the current color scheme. Illustration courtesy of Boeing.

One of President Trump's favorite items on display in the Oval Office has been a model of Boeing's Air Force One revamp that swaps Jackie Kennedy's iconic light blue design for Trump's preferred look: a white top and dark blue bottom set off with a red stripe.

What he's saying: "Isn't it beautiful? Now it's actually patriotic," Trump has told visiting foreign leaders and other visitors, according to a person he's shown it to.

U.K. clears Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for mass rollout

A health care worker during the phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial by the Pfizer and BioNTech in Ankara, Turkey, in October. Photo: Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The United Kingdom became on Wednesday the first Western country in the world to license the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for widespread use.

What they're saying: "Today’s emergency use authorisation in the UK marks a historic moment in the fight against COVID-19," said Albert Bourla, the chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, per the Guardian.

  • "This authorisation is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for their ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the UK."

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

28 mins ago - World

NYT: Biden won't immediately remove U.S. tariffs on China

President-elect Joe Biden during an event in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump's 25% tariffs imposed on China under the phase one trade deal will remain in place at the start of the new administration, President-elect Biden said in an interview with the New York Times published early Wednesday.

Details: "I'm not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs," Biden said. He plans to conduct a full review of the current U.S. policy on China and speak with key allies in Asia and Europe to "develop a coherent strategy," he said.