Southwest is to reintroduce the 737 MAX in the 2nd quarter of 2021, somewhat later than other US airlines.
Gary Kelly, Chairman of the board and CEO explained to staff and passengers in this memo which we reproduce in full.
After a thorough and comprehensive review of Boeing’s enhancements to the 737 MAX 8, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued official requirements that enable airlines to return the MAX to service. Southwest is in receipt of the FAA’s directive regarding flight control software updates and additional Pilot training related to the MAX, and we are ready to meet each requirement. There is much work to be done before our MAX aircraft will resume service, which we estimate will likely take place no sooner than the second quarter of 2021. Today, I want to share a few of our thoughts and plans.
First and foremost, there is nothing more sacred to me than the safety of our Customers and Employees. If we had a cause for doubt of the Safety of our fleet—or any subset of it—simply put, the planes would not fly. That is a moral obligation that I share with my fellow Southwest Family Members who work, fly, and travel with our own families on these aircraft. This is not only our profession, career, and livelihoods—it’s deeply personal to all of us.
Our Southwest Pilot Leadership Team has reviewed and expressed confidence in the MAX software and training updates following Boeing’s enhancements to the aircraft. I have personally been in contact with Boeing and the FAA regarding the changes and have been briefed by our internal experts. Additionally, aviation regulators from countries around the world have reviewed Boeing’s changes to the aircraft and the FAA’s new requirements.
Without getting too technical, we understand that Boeing has made changes to the flight control system that now compares input from two angle of attack sensors as opposed to one; the aircraft only responds if data from both sensors agree and only activates once per event; and Pilots always have the ability to override the aircraft’s input. These changes have been reviewed and approved by the FAA, and, with these enhancements, I am confident we will be ready to operate the MAX in accordance with the FAA’s requirements. I am going to be flying on the MAX before we return the aircraft to service—and the same is true for many other Southwest Leaders.
Before we return the aircraft to customer service, however, every active Southwest Pilot will complete additional FAA-required flight training in one of our nine 737 MAX simulators and will complete additional FAA-required computer-based training covering MAX procedures. Southwest will also require active Pilots to re-take our original 737 MAX 8 computer-based differences training as a refresher to complement the FAA-required training. Additionally, Southwest will conduct multiple readiness flights on each of our 34 MAX aircraft and complete thousands of hours of work, inspections, and the software updates before any of our Customers board a Southwest 737 MAX.
At Southwest, we only operate Boeing 737s, and our Pilots are highly trained and experienced at flying the aircraft. In fact, before the 737 MAX was grounded, Southwest Pilots flew almost 40,000 flights on the aircraft, which is more than 89,000 flight hours. Now, we’ll approach returning the MAX to service with the same commitment to training that we’ve employed for almost 50 years coupled with an uncompromising and unwavering commitment to Safety. For us, it’s a passionate pursuit, and it’s among the most important work of our careers.
Finally, we invite you to visit www.southwest.com/737MAX for more information regarding our plans for returning the aircraft to service. On the site, we feature a video from Senior Vice President of Air Operations Alan Kasher that explains next steps, including the additional Pilot training that will take place before the MAX will return to service. We will continue updating the site with additional information as we move forward. Our goal throughout this process is to be open and transparent with you every step of the way—just as you’ve come to expect from us.
Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding throughout our upcoming return-to-service process for the 737 MAX. As always, we appreciate your support.
We’ve also launched a MAX media kit at https://www.swamedia.com/737MAX8 where media can view our MAX statements throughout the return-to-service process and download photos of the aircraft.