US FAA move could have Boeing 737 MAX flying again this autumn

Jul 22, 2020

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Boeing’s beleaguered 737 MAX could be flying by the end of the year after U.S. regulators unveiled the latest step in efforts to recertify the jet for passenger service.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Tuesday that it would issue a directive on design changes and crew procedures needed to return the jet to service. The directive, which the FAA said would come “in the near future”, would open a 45-day public comment period on the matter.

A Boeing spokesperson told TPG that the Chicago-based planemaker continues to work closely with the FAA and other global regulators to safely return the MAX to service.

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Currently, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have published schedules with the MAX starting 9 September, 8 October and 8 September, respectively, according to Cirium schedules. However, those dates are widely expected to be pushed back until the FAA clears the jet to fly again.

The proposed directive announced Tuesday comes nearly three weeks after the FAA completed re-certification flight tests with a 737 MAX 7 jet. However, even after the 45-day comment period ends, the regulator lists seven other action items needed to re-certify the aircraft. Those actions include issuance of the final report, approvals by other regulators and — though not specified — a test flight by FAA administrator Steve Dickson himself.

The exact timing of when the MAX might be recertified remained uncertain, though various reports suggested it was unlikely to occur before October. Whenever the MAX does fly again, its return appears likely to come amid one of the worst periods in the history of aviation, with airlines grounding hundreds of planes due travellers staying home during the ongoing COVID pandemic.

Related: Boeing’s 737 MAX completes recertification flights

Returning the MAX to airline schedules will lag the jet’s formal recertification, whenever that comes. Boeing and airlines will need to make the necessary modifications to existing aircraft and bring them out of storage. In addition, pilots are expected to need additional training time before they can fly the planes again.

In January, Southwest chief operating officer Mike Van de Ven said the carrier anticipated at least a month of work and training before it can return to the 737 MAX to service after the jet is re-certified. Assuming the FAA gives the MAX an OK in October, this timeline would suggest U.S. flyers are unlikely to see it before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

The MAX has been grounded since March 2019 after two fatal crashes of models flown by Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air that claimed the lives of 346 people.

Related: Boeing plans to resume 737 MAX production this month

Featured image by Mark Ralston/Getty Images.

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