The 737 MAX has been cleared to resume passenger flights in Europe in a boost for Boeing as it revealed a record annual loss for the company of almost $12bn (£8.7bn).
The US plane maker has been locked in crisis mode since the flagship models of its fleet were grounded globally in March 2019 following crashes of passenger flights in Indonesia and Ethiopia that left 346 dead.
While the 737 MAX was granted clearance by US regulators late last year to fly again following an overhaul of key safety systems, the green light was given far later than Boeing had expected.
Europe’s aviation watchdog, EASA, confirmed just moments before the company’s annual results were due to be published on Wednesday that the planes had met its own four tests to return to the skies.
They included a full design review and the implementation of a pilot training regime.
EASA executive director Patrick Ky said: “We have every confidence that the aircraft is safe, which is the precondition for giving our approval.
“But we will continue to monitor 737 MAX operations closely as the aircraft resumes service.”
Sky News was seeking clarification from the Civil Aviation Authority on whether the European directive would apply to UK airspace.
Relatives of those who died in the crashes have condemned regulators for the lifting of their restrictions, arguing they are premature and even “dangerous” given the findings of a US Congressional investigation surrounding Boeing’s behaviour and the original certification of the MAX.
It is a welcome development though for Boeing following a devastating 2020 that saw its planned fightback from the 737 MAX crisis thwarted and sales devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The crisis forced the company to hoard completed orders, slash production, cut jobs, agree compensation with airlines for missed deliveries and pay $2.5bn to resolve a US investigation into the MAX accidents.
Now, the challenge facing Boeing is one of an industry battered by COVID-19 seeking to delay orders because of the collapse in demand for travel during much of 2020 and beyond.
The company said it would further delay its 777X aircraft programme at a cost of more than $6bn.
That charge was reflected in the record net loss which, at $11.9bn, was more than double the figure analysts had expected.
Shares were trading down more than 3% down in pre-market deals.
The market had already been told that total aircraft deliveries were at a 43-year low in 2020 with coronavirus-inspired travel bans also depressing shipments of Boeing’s second most important cash generator currently – the 787 Dreamliner.
Boeing revealed that it burned $18.4bn in cash during the year as it grappled the challenges but said it welcomed commitments from airlines, including Ryanair, for additional 737 MAX orders.
Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun told staff in a memo: “2020 was a year of profound societal and global disruption, which significantly impacted our industry.
“In the face of these challenges, we made important strides to strengthen our safety processes, rebuild trust, and transform our business to prepare for a robust recovery.”
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