American Airlines Says It Expects to Start Flying Troubled Boeing 737 Max Again Next Year

Photo: Elaine Thompson (AP)

American Airlines said on Wednesday that it expects its fleet of Boeing 737 Max jets to return to passenger service later than expected on Jan. 16, 2020, after the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation sign off on revisions intended to remedy flaws that led to the deaths of 346 people in two crashes.

The delay, more than a month beyond American Airlines’ original projections, makes American the last airline to return the craft to service. Of course, all may not go as planned. The entire 737 Max line has been grounded worldwide since March. In the interim, allegations that manufacturer Boeing rushed the plane out the door with a faulty design (particularly its anti-stalling Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, MCAS), that it failed to implement stronger safety systems, that the FAA failed to properly inspect it have multiplied. Boeing insists it has resolved those issues with extensive retrofitting. United Airlines has the 737 Max removed from its flight schedule until Dec. 19, 2019, while Southwest Airlines has it removed until Jan. 5, 2020, according to the Washington Post.

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The airline said in a statement to the Post that “American Airlines anticipates that the impending software updates to the Boeing 737 Max will lead to recertification of the aircraft later this year and resumption of commercial service in January 2020. We are in continuous contact with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transportation (DOT).” However, in another statement to the paper, the FAA said there is “not a prescribed timeline” for the 737 Max’s return to service and it had not told airlines there is.

Bloomberg reported this week that European regulators are not satisfied with the changes that Boeing hopes will get it the all clear signal from the FAA, which could possibly mean that the plane will return to service without their support. European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) officials told senior U.S. counterparts that one element of the fixes, having two flight control computers operate simultaneously, goes against decades of prior design and has not been adequately tested, the news agency wrote.

An EASA spokesperson, however, denied that the agency had any “specific concerns” that would lead it to contradict any U.S. conclusions about the 737 Max’s future safety. The Southwest pilots’ union, however, recently filed a lawsuit arguing that Boeing deliberately put profits before safety and “made a calculated decision to rush a re-engined aircraft to market to secure its single-aisle market share and prioritize its bottom line.”

Boeing took a $4.9 billion after-tax charge due to the groundings and cost of repairs earlier this year. The 737 Max line was once Boeing’s fastest-selling jet, but after the two crashes and groundings, sales have slumped significantly and the manufacturer has finalized only a handful of sales since from its business jet division.

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Correction: This article originally misstated the dates of the 737 Max’s expected return to service (it is 2019, not 2018, duh). We regret the error. 

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post