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American bets on FAA, staff support to regain public trust in Boeing 737 MAX

Nov. 15, 2019
4 min read
American bets on FAA, staff support to regain public trust in Boeing 737 MAX
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American Airlines is betting on the endorsement of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the support of its staff to win passengers back to the Boeing 737 MAX when the jet returns to the skies.

“The best way for us is, number one, the FAA's seal of approval is essential, [then] our pilots, our flight attendants getting out there and saying 'Hey this is an aircraft we really want to fly on'. That I think will move a lot of people," said Robert Isom, president of American, speaking during question and answer session moderated by TPG’s executive editorial director Scott Mayerowitz at the Wings Club in New York on Thursday.

In his comments, Isom notably did not mention Boeing, and the efforts the planemaker is taking to re-certify the 737 MAX and regain public trust in the aircraft.

Neither the Allied Pilots Association (APA) nor the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), the unions representing American's pilots and flight attendants respectively, were immediately available for comment.

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American and Southwest have removed the MAX from their schedules through March, and United — so far— through January.

Boeing, for its part, must complete four remaining major milestones with the FAA and other regulators to re-certify the MAX. It expects this to occur sometime in December, with the aircraft returning to commercial service in January.

Once that occurs, the planemaker is expected to launch a confidence-boosting campaign to get passengers back on the jet. Boeing has not provided details of these plans.

Related: Boeing now expects a 2020 return for its 737 MAX

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American plans a gradual re-introduction of the MAX. The airline only has five aircraft in its schedule beginning March 5. Isom said American plans to add five more jets to its schedule a week later, and will continue introducing five a week until all 24 737 MAX 8s in its fleet are back in the skies.

This approach will keep the MAX isolated, which Isom suggested will allow passengers to avoid it.

Once the MAX returns to service, American — like fellow MAX operators Southwest Airlines and United Airlines — says passengers will be able to change their plans to take a flight on a different aircraft, though it has yet to provide specific details.

American expects deliveries of new MAX jets to resume once its current fleet is back in service, said Isom. The carrier is scheduled to take 21 737 MAX 8s in 2020, according to its latest fleet plan.

Related: American plans to come back strong after MAX grounding with aggressive growth

The 737 MAX grounding, as well as Airbus A321neo delivery delays and issues with its mechanics, has taken its toll on American in 2019. Despite grand financial and growth targets for the year, the airline has scaled back both plans to reflect what has been a mediocre year in terms of operational and financial performance.

“For American Airlines, it’s been a tough year but I’m really optimistic about the future because of everything we’ve set up," said Isom.

The carrier plans to grow at an accelerated rate of roughly 5% year-over-year in 2020, with a plan to grow its Charlotte (CLT) hub to more than 700 daily flights.

However much of that growth is conditioned on the return of the MAX by March — a date that is far from certain.

Featured image by American 737 MAX 8 aircraft stored in Oklahoma. (Photo courtesy of American)

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