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United returns Boeing 737 Max to commercial service after grounding

A United Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft lands at San Francisco International Airport on March 13, 2019 in Burlingame, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

United Airlines returned the Boeing 737 Max to service on Thursday, the second U.S. carrier to bring back the plane after two deadly crashes prompted a worldwide grounding in 2019.

The Federal Aviation Administration in November lifted its 20-month grounding of the planes after Boeing made software and other safety changes to Boeing’s best-selling plane. The resumption of deliveries last year was a relief for Boeing. The grounding of the planes starved it of cash, a crisis that was compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on jetliner demand.

United’s first Max flight since the grounding departed from its Denver hub shortly before its scheduled 7:50 a.m. Mountain time departure time for Houston. United has roughly 550 flights scheduled with the Max this month and about 2,000 for March. The Chicago-based airline said it expects to take delivery of 24 Max planes this year and had 14 in the fleet at the time of the March 2019 grounding.

American Airlines in December became the first U.S. carrier to return the planes to commercial service with flights out of its Miami hub. Brazilian carrier Gol was the world’s first airline to resume flights with the Max last year. Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines are scheduled to start flying their Max jets again next month.