Boeing's 737 Max is making a comeback after two crashes that killed a total of 346 people in late 2018 and early last year. Ireland's Ryanair, a major European carrier, has ordered 75 of the planes, which had been grounded since March 2019, the two companies announced on Thursday.
The order — estimated at more than $7 billion — comes just two weeks after the Federal Aviation Administration cleared the 737 Max to resume passenger service — and as the coronavirus pandemic has sharply curtailed airline passenger demand.
"I can't tell you how confident we are in the safety of this aircraft," Ryanair Group CEO Michael O'Leary said at a signing ceremony in Washington. "This is the most scrutinized, most audited aircraft in history."
In a statement O'Leary said that he expected the rapid return of flights, likely in 2021, after COVID-19 vaccines roll out and the pandemic recedes.
The FAA and other aviation authorities around the world ordered the 737 Max grounded in March 2019, after one of the planes operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed, killing all 157 people on board. That catastrophe came less than five months after a 737 Max operated by Lion Air crashed in Indonesia, killing 189 people.
The House Transportation Committee investigated the development and certification of the 737 Max. In September, the panel issued a report in which it said it found "a disturbing pattern of technical miscalculations and troubling management misjudgments" by Boeing, combined with "numerous oversight lapses and accountability gaps by the FAA."
The 737 Max — considered key to Boeing's competition with top rival Airbus — was the fastest-selling plane in Boeing's history, with more than 5,000 orders received as of early 2019. But for all of last year, orders dropped to less than 50 of the planes following the grounding.
The human and business catastrophes led Boeing's board to fire President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg late last year.
This August, Boeing received an order for two 737 Max planes from Poland's Enter Air, with an option to buy two more. Ryanair had previously ordered 135 of the planes.
Boeing's stock climbed more than 7% after Thursday's announcement, though it's still down more than 25% this year.