Boeing now estimates that its 737 Max, the grounded aircraft that was involved in two fatal crashes and is now undergoing a recertification process, could return to the skies in the middle of this year.
While the company did not specify to which exact months its estimate of “mid-2020” refer , earlier reports citing anonymous sources say Boeing told airlines and suppliers it would be June or July.
“As we have emphasised, the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and other global regulators will determine when the 737 Max returns to service. However, in order to help our customers and suppliers plan their operations, we periodically provide them with our best estimate of when regulators will begin to authorise the ungrounding of the 737 Max,” Boeing said when announcing the new mid-2020 return to service estimate.
“This updated estimate is informed by our experience to date with the certification process. 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 three US carriers that have the Max – American Airlines, Southwest and United Airlines – have all removed the aircraft from their schedules until June.
Delta is the only major US carrier that doesn’t fly the Max, and its business has benefitted as a result.
Boeing needs to take several steps before the Max can fly again. It still needs to conduct a certification test flight with the FAA, the Max’s final exam with regulators, which also may happen by the end of next month, according to The New York Times, which cited two people with knowledge of the process. That newspaper also revealed earlier this month that Boeing had uncovered a new potential design flaw with the Max relating to the wiring that controls the tail of the plane. Last weekend, Australia’s ABC News also reported that the Max had encountered a new software issue that could further delay its return to service.
Boeing said in its statement yesterday: “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. We will provide additional information about our efforts to safely return the 737 Max to service in connection with our quarterly financial disclosures next week.”
In an email on his first day on the job earlier this month, Boeing’s new CEO David Calhoun said that the Max’s return to service should be his company’s “primary focus” in 2020.
Boeing reiterated this sentiment in its statement yesterday, saying: “Returning the Max safely to service is our number one priority, and we are confident that will happen,” said in its statement yesterday (Chicago time).
The company added that it will provide more information next week about its efforts to safely return the Max to service when it releases its quarterly financial results.