Boeing 737 MAX flies again: Data reveals the timeline and pattern in the MAX groundings and relaunch

Last modified 2020-12-14

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The Boeing 737 MAX is cleared to fly again after a 20-month grounding. The MAXs had started flying commercially in 2017. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and regulators around the world grounded the model in March 2019, following two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, just five months apart in 2018 and 2019.

 

Throwback to 737 MAX groundings week

Spire Aviation data reveal fascinating insights about the one-week in March 2019, when countries around the world started grounding the MAXs. Data unveils which countries were the fastest to enforce the ban and which still allowed them to fly until a total global ban was enforced.


 

Data reveals the pattern of 737 MAX groundings

March 10, 2019: Ethiopian Airlines jet crashes
March 11, 2019: China and Indonesia grounds B737 MAX
March 12, 2019: Australia, India, Europe, Singapore, and others enforce grounding
March 13, 2019: FAA joins other major global regulators in grounding the 737 MAX citing evidence of similarities between the two fatal crashes
March 14-18, 2019: More countries follow suit to ground the worldwide MAX fleet

March 10-16, 2020: The week when MAX was grounded

Spire data reveals a clear timeline, as the groundings were enforced one after the other by countries around the world (visual above). Following the Ethiopian crash on March 10, regulators started grounding the MAX. Within a week, the daily MAX flights dropped from 1,400 to zero. There were a little over 300 MAX aircraft flying worldwide up until the crash.

 

The MAX Comeback

Fast forward 20 months, US safety regulators cleared Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft to fly again on Nov 18, 2020. However, the planes won’t return to the skies all at once. Civil Aviation Authorities across countries will review the clearance and the approvals are expected to arrive in the coming months. We could expect to see an inverse trend of the week in March 2019, albeit rather slowly.

November 18, 2020: FAA approves returns to service
November 25, 2020: Brazil’s ANAC follows suit

Spire data tracked the MAX test flights conducted by different airlines and authorities from FAA (USA), CAA (Canada) with Air Canada, ANAC (Brazil) with GOL Airlines, and others. The visualizations below show the flight path including aircraft altitude (in ft) during the entire flight.

December 02, 2020: American Airlines First post-grounding demo flight with media onboard
The American Airlines 737-8 MAX flew the short 45-minute trip from Dallas, Texas, to Tulsa, Oklahoma. According to Reuters, it comes weeks before AA’s first commercial MAX passenger flight on Dec. 29 and is part of a PR effort to allay any concerns about the aircraft.

 

December 03, 2020: Air Canada conducts training flights
CAA has granted Air Canada permission to conduct training flights. In the visual above, the Spire database shows one of those training flights (Tail #C-GEIV) which flew from Montreal to Ottawa. Interestingly, it was a low altitude flight as it didn’t fly over FL150 during the entire flight path.

 

December 04 – 08, 2020: GOL Airlines conducts training and re-launches first commercial flight
With the MAX cleared for operations again in the USA and Brazil, the Brazilian Airline GOL operated the first MAX commercial passenger flight on December 09. One of its MAX8 aircraft (Tail# PR-XMB) flew passengers from Sao Paulo to Porto Alegre. In the above video, Spire’s flight tracking data shows the same aircraft on a pre-launch training flight from Tancredo Neves Airport (CNF) to Sao Paulo Airport (GRU) on December 04.

Spire Aviation data recorded the MAX groundings in fine detail and is tracking the return of service in different countries. In addition, airlines worldwide with MAX fleet are adapting their network and fleet strategies to navigate COVID-19 travel bans, utilize fleet capacity, and meet passenger demands. Satellite powered air traffic data is shedding light on evolving strategies and their effect on the global economy.

 

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