Boeing's modified 737 MAX airliner is safe to return to service in Europe, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said today, lifting a 22-month flight ban after two crashes of the jet which caused 346 deaths. 

EASA executive director Patrick Ky said it had "every confidence" that the plane was safe following an independent European review of changes ranging from cockpit software to maintenance checks and pilot training. 

"Let me be quite clear that this journey does not end here," Ky said in a statement. 

"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," he added. 

"This assessment was carried out in full independence of Boeing or the (American) Federal Aviation Administration and without any economic or political pressure," EASA added.

Regulators around the world grounded the MAX in March 2019, after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet five months after one flown by Indonesia's Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea. A total of 346 passengers and crew members were killed in the two crashes. 

The US lifted its ban in November, followed by Brazil and Canada. 

China, which was first to ban the plane after the second crash, and which represents a quarter of MAX sales, has not said when it will act. 

Relatives of some crash victims have strongly criticised the move the clear Boeing's best-selling airplane. 

EASA represents 31 mainly EU nations, excluding Britain which formally left the bloc this month. Britain is expected to issue its own separate approval today.

On foot of the EASA announcement, the Irish Aviation Authority confirmed it is now in a position to lift the suspension of operations of 737 MAX aircraft into and out of Irish airspace.

In December, Ryanair agreed to buy a further 75 new Boeing 737 MAX-8200 aircraft, bringing the total number of the jets that it has ordered to 210.

The total value of the deal, including the 135 that it had previously ordered, is $22 billion.

Ryanair said it expected to take the first deliveries of the aircraft from early 2021.

It said the new planes, when delivered, will be the most audited and most regulated in aviation history.

The Ryanair order was seen as a commercial lifeline to the embattled US planemaker after the 22 month ban of the 737 MAX. 

Boeing posts record $12 billion annual loss

Meanwhile, Boeing today posted a record $12 billion annual loss as it delayed its all-new 777X jet again and booked a $6.5 billion charge for the programme. 

The coronavirus crisis has exacerbated a drop in demand for the industry's largest jetliners, with airline customers shunning deliveries of planes due international travel restrictions, hurting cash flow at the US planemaker. 

Boeing said it expects the 777X, a larger version of the 777 mini-jumbo, to enter service by late 2023, delaying the jet's launch for the third time and booking a $6.5 billion pre-tax charge. 

The company has been developing the widebody jet with the goal of releasing it in 2022, already two years later than planned. 

A historic slump in air travel has also hurt shipments of Boeing's 787 Dreamliners to airlines, causing the aircraft to pile up in dozens, further weighing on company which already has a stored inventory of about 450 737 MAX jets. 

Boeing said it expects to resume the shipments of its wide-body 787 Dreamliners in 2021 as air travel recovers. 

Deliveries of the 787s slumped nearly 70% to 53 planes in 2020 and are not expected to recover to 2019 levels until at least 2024, according to analysts. 

Boeing also said it delivered an additional 13 737 MAX airplanes in January so far from its stored inventory, adding to the 27 aircraft it shipped in December after the US cleared the jet to fly again following a 20-month ban. 

The company's net loss rose to $8.44 billion in the fourth quarter ended December 31, from $1.01 billion a year earlier, taking its full-year loss to a record $11.94 billion. 

Revenue fell 15% to $15.30 billion in the quarter.