Boeing’s troubled 737 Max airplane will return to Tampa International Airport this month for the first time in nearly two years.
The plane, which was grounded from March 2019 to late December due to safety concerns following deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, will return with two American Airlines flights between Tampa and Miami on Jan. 19, according to Cirium, a global aviation data company. Those flights will continue two or three times per day going forward.
American spokeswoman Sarah Jantz said the company was “taking a phased approach to return the Boeing 737 Max to service,” gradually increasing to up to 38 daily departures nationwide through mid-February, then up to 91 per day through March.
On Feb. 12, United Airlines will resume daily flights between Tampa and Houston once a day, according to Cirium. Southwest Airlines and Copa Airlines have also flown 737 Maxes into Tampa International Airport. A Southwest spokesman said the company expects to resume 737 flights around March.
The planes have been grounded since March 2019, when a 737 Max crashed in Ethiopia, killing 157 people on board. That crash happened five months after another 737 Max crashed in Indonesia, killing 189. After the Ethiopian crash, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ordered the planes out of the air pending a thorough testing and review process.
After Boeing made changes to the planes’ flight control system, the Federal Aviation Administration in November approved the plane for new flights. The first new domestic 737 Max flight took place Dec. 29, with about 100 passengers flying from Miami to New York.
At a Hillsborough County Aviation Authority meeting in December, board member Chip Diehl, a former MacDill Air Force Base commander, said he hoped officials and nearby residents would be given a heads up about the 737 Max’s return.
“I just think it’d be nice to know that when that first one comes in,” Diehl said, “because I know a lot of neighborhood people are asking, ‘Do we have those?’”
At the time of the groundings, Tampa International saw between six and 10 737 Max flights pass through the airport each day, most of them on Southwest, the hub’s largest carrier. Several planes were stuck in Tampa for weeks before being relocated for maintenance by each carrier.
The groundings also led Icelandair to shelve plans for the first nonstop route between Tampa and Iceland.