Boeing has publicly fallen into line with its airline customers and now estimates the 737 MAX will not return to the skies until mid-2020.
The new estimate means that the plane will have been grounded for more than a year, prompting the US manufacturer to suspend production and costing it billions of dollars.
Boeing reiterated that the decision about lifting the grounding would be made by the US Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators.
“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 authorize the ungrounding of the 737 MAX,’’ the planemaker said in a statement released Tuesday US time.
“We are informing our customers and suppliers that we are currently estimating that the ungrounding of the 737 MAX will begin during mid-2020.
“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 conservative estimate is a turnround for Boeing, which had raised the ire of the FAA under former CEO Dennis Muilenburg for a string of optimistic claims about the plane’s return to the skies.
The MAX fleet was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people and were linked to new flight control software in the plane.
Boeing has since updated the software but has experienced a series of setbacks in getting the plane recertified.
The delay in getting the plane back into the air means lost revenue, a mounting airline compensation bill and a possible downgrade of Boeing’s credit rating.
It has also rippled through the company’s supply chain and prompted thousands of lay-offs.
US media reported this week that the company is in talks with banks to secure a loan of $US10 billion or more with several financial institutions already committed as contributors.
The company’s US customers for the MAX — United, Southwest and American — had already taken the plane out of their schedules until June.
Southwest joined the other two airlines last week and took the MAX out of its schedule until June 6.
The airlines are doing this to reduce last-minute flight cancellations and unexpected disruptions to customers but it means they are operating with a reduced fleet.
Other airlines, such as Europe’s Ryanair, have had to postpone expansion plans and say the delay is affecting growth.
The Boeing statement came as a new software glitch was recently uncovered on the MAX.
The problem was with a software power-up monitoring function that operates when the aircraft or system power-up.
The function verifies certain system monitors are operating correctly to ensure no latent fault is present in the system or function being monitored and signals the need for maintenance if there is.
One of the monitors did not initiate correctly at power up during a technical review. The review was towards the end of the formal development process and before the software package was finalized.
Boeing said it was making necessary updates and working with the FAA on the problem.