American, Southwest extend MAX absence until March

November 09, 2019
MAX Boeing
Southwest Airlines 737 MAX aircraft at Victorville, California. Image: KCAL9.

American Airlines and Southwest have pushed back the anticipated re-introduction of the Boeing 737 MAX to March 2020 — almost a year after the troubled plane was first grounded.

American had previously canceled service on the MAX to January 15 but says it has revised that assumption after advice from Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration.

It now expects the plane to return to commercial service March 5.

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But it confirmed it expects to run exhibition flights — flights for staff and guests only — before March 5.

The flights are designed to reassure the public that the plane is safe. Surveys suggest many travelers will avoid the MAX after its initial return to service while they watch how it performs.

The airliner has been grounded since March after software known as MCAS was implicated in the tragedies involving Indonesia’s Lion Air and Ethiopian Airways.

Boeing is working with the FAA and other regulators to get approval for changes to MCAS and MAX training.

Europe’s regulator, EASA, has said it does not expect to give approval for the aircraft to re-enter service until early next year but the situation in the US has been unclear.

American said it expects to gradually phase in MAX scheduled services and increase flying on the aircraft throughout March and this may mean further schedule changes.

“Since American will gradually phase the MAX into our operation over the course of  a month, additional refinements to our schedule may occur,’’ it said.

“ Affected customers will be contacted directly.”

Southwest, the biggest US customer for the MAX,  has removed the aircraft from its flight schedules until March 6 from its previous estimate of February 8.

The airline’s pilots’ union and now its flight attendants are suing Boeing over lost pay as a result of the groundings.

Southwest cited “continued uncertainty” about the timing of the MAX return to service for its decision.

The airline decisions appear to run counter to an indication by Boeing earlier this week it was sticking with its assumption the MAX would return to service in the fourth quarter.

The comment came as the company confirmed it had been asked toi resubmit some technical documentation relating to changes it is making to to the MAX flight control software.

The changes were among issues flagged during a weekend meeting between US Federal Aviation Administration and European Union Aviation Safety Agency officials, according to Reuters.

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A Boeing spokesman told AirlineRatings that the company had provided technical documentation to the regulators as part of the software validation process.

“The documentation was complete, and it was provided in a format consistent with past submissions,’’ he said.

“Regulators have requested that the information be conveyed in a different form, and the documentation is being revised accordingly.

“While this happens, we continue to work with the FAA and global regulators on certification of the software for the safe return of the MAX to service.”

Boeing also faces problems with cracks in a structure known as the pickle fork in its older Boeing 737NGs.