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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

Jan 13, 2021 - Podcasts

Affirm CEO Max Levchin on today's IPO and the future of fintech

Affirm, a “buy now pay later” company led by PayPal co-founder and former CEO Max Levchin, went public today at a valuation of nearly $15 billion — and then saw its share price more than double.

Axios Re:Cap goes deeper with Levchin, to discuss the IPO, why he believes credit cards are “flawed” and the growing centrality of fintech.

Pelosi calls raising the debt ceiling a bipartisan responsibility

Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a "dear colleague" statement Sunday evening, calling on Congress to act in a bipartisan manner to raise the nation's debt ceiling.

Why it matters: Congress is fast approaching an October deadline to raise the nation's debt ceiling and avoid a government shutdown. But the issue has become a thorny partisan stand-off.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Beto not even best Dem against Abbott

Beto O'Rourke speaks at a rally at the Texas State Capitol in June. Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Actor Matthew McConaughey’s nine-point lead in a theoretical matchup against Greg Abbott shows just how vulnerable the hard-right Texas governor could be in a general election.

Why it matters: Abbott has won conservative accolades for his abortion, mask and vaccine bans. Axios reported Sunday that former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to announce a gubernatorial challenge — but a recent poll shows he’s not even the most popular Democrat in the state.