Boeing says it now expects a 2020 return for its 737 MAX
Boeing now expects the return of its beleaguered 737 MAX early in the new year, a view already held by most operators including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.
The Chicago-based planemaker said Monday that, after reviewing the steps still necessary to gain re-certification for the jet from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it anticipates the MAX to return to commercial service to "begin in January."
Boeing continues to expect re-certification before the end of the year, with the change in its forecast limited to the commercial return of the aircraft. However, it couches even the December forecast, saying that "it is possible" the timeline is met.
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"We are working closely with the FAA and other regulatory authorities as we work towards certification and safe return to commercial service, and we are taking the time to answer all of their questions," said Boeing, re-emphasizing that the regulators will be the final arbiters of when the MAX returns to the skies.
U.S. operators American, Southwest and United removed the 737 MAX from their schedules through January months ago. Last Friday, American and Southwest further postponed the return of the aircraft until March.
Boeing must complete five key steps before the FAA will make a decision on re-certifying the MAX. The steps include a multi-day simulator evaluation of the software, a separate multi-day simulator evaluation of the systems on pilots, a certification flight with the regulator, a final submission of all documentation to the FAA, and a multi-day simulator session with numerous global regulators to evaluate the training requirements.
Related: American, Southwest extend 737 MAX cancellations into March
The manufacturer said it has completed the first step, the multi-day simulator evaluation of the software.
Boeing has said the 737 MAX would return-to-the-skies in the fourth quarter since at least July. As recently as October, CEO Dennis Muilenburg said he expected deliveries — and likely commercial flights — to resume in December.
“We made mistakes and got some things wrong,” Muilenburg said earlier in November in his first testimony in front of Congress since the MAX was grounded in March.
Related: Boeing CEO emphasizes safety in first grilling by Congress on 737 MAX
Once the MAX returns to service, Boeing is expected to embark on a campaign to boost the public's confidence in the MAX. Before it was grounded, 346 passengers and crew members died in two separate crashes attributed to a faulty aircraft systenm, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.
American has already said that it will run a number of "exhibition flights" limited to staff and invited guests prior to returning the MAX to service.