Boeing Expects 737 MAX Planes To Return To Service Mid-2020

Boeing announced Tuesday that it does not expect the company’s 737 MAX planes to receive regulator approval to fly until mid-year, much later than previously anticipated.

“We are informing our customers and suppliers that we are currently estimating that the ungrounding of the 737 MAX will begin during mid-2020,” Boeing said in a statement.

Boeing grounded its top-selling aircraft in March after struggling to persuade air safety regulators worldwide that the 737 MAX was safe to fly, following two crashes in a five-month span that killed a combined 346 people. 

The company had hoped the Federal Aviation Administration would approve its safety system by the end of last year, but the grounding extended into 2020. Boeing’s announcement Tuesday amounts to a further delay.

“This updated estimate is informed by our experience to date with the certification process,” the statement from Boeing read. “It is subject to our ongoing attempts to address known schedule risks and further developments that may arise in connection with the certification process. It also accounts for the rigorous scrutiny that regulatory authorities are rightly applying at every step of their review of the 737 MAX’s flight control system and the Joint Operations Evaluation Board process, which determines pilot training requirements.”

The company stressed that the FAA and other global regulators will make the final determination as to when the jetliner will actually return to service, and that Boeing provided an estimate “in order to help our customers and suppliers plan their operations.” The FAA has not given a timeline for when it expects to approve the 737 MAX.

On Jan. 9, the FAA released hundreds of internal messages from Boeing employees that raised serious questions about the company’s development of simulators and the 737 MAX. Employees in messages from 2017 expressed complaints about the jetliner as well as its flight management computer. The FAA said that any “potential safety deficiencies” found in the internal messages have since been addressed.

On Jan. 13, Boeing board chairman David Calhoun assumed the role of the company’s president and CEO after Dennis Muilenberg was ousted in response to the MAX turmoil. Senators investigating Boeing’s close relationship with regulators went after Muilenberg in October for the company’s handling of the crashes. Muilenberg told senators he was sorry for the victims’ families.

The U.S. Department of Transportation released a report Jan. 16 on a six-month review of the FAA’s procedures for product certification and the processes followed by the aviation agency and Boeing during the 737 MAX 8’s certification. The department commissioned a special committee of aviation and safety experts in April 2019 to conduct the review in response to the two crashes.

On Monday, Boeing confirmed to CNN that it has officially suspended production of the 737 MAX for the first time since the backlash began. The company had continued to build the plane despite the grounding, but it announced in December that it planned to temporarily halt production in Washington state because it only makes money from selling jets after they are delivered. Boeing currently has about 400 completed jets parked in Washington and Texas that are waiting for approval to be delivered to airlines.

Anticipating the likely delay, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines had already removed the MAX from their schedules until June, according to The Seattle Times. Boeing’s announcement on Tuesday means those airlines will need to push their timelines even further and plan on not having the popular plane for most of summer’s peak travel season.

“Returning the MAX safely to service is our number one priority, and we are confident that will happen,” Boeing said. “We acknowledge and regret the continued difficulties that the grounding of the 737 MAX has presented to our customers, our regulators, our suppliers, and the flying public.”

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