The plane was grounded in March 2019 after two fatal crashes that killed 346 people. Boeing has been working on fixing the automatic safety feature
With that history of missed deadlines, neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor Boeing will say when the plane will be approved to fly passengers again. The airlines have indicated they aren’t planning on flying the plane until late this year, at the earliest.
Experts say that’s a relatively safe bet. “It’ll take several months, easily, to deal with the training and fixes,” said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst with the Teal Group. “The Covid-19 situation will hobble the process a little bit. A couple of days before Thanksgiving is my bet for when it flies.”
A long approval process
Pilots from the FAA started test flights with the plane last week and are continuing those tests this week. Once the agency is satisfied, it could give relatively quick clearance for the plane. But that’s only the start, not the end.
Next Boeing will need to start making repairs on those grounded planes, as well as the more than 400 planes it has built during the grounding which have yet to be delivered.
“Boeing has already begun modifying [the wiring of] airplanes that have not yet been delivered and is coordinating modification efforts with the airlines,” the company said. “New airplanes being built will include this update as well.”
A perilous time for aviation
“We have too many airplanes right now,” said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly at the company’s shareholder meeting last month talking about the outlook for a return to service for the Max. Southwest flies nothing but 737 jets.
But Kelly said he would like to see the 737 Max planes it owns in service carrying passengers sooner rather than later, along with those that Boeing has already built for it but has yet to deliver.
“The Max airplane is superior to the …[version of the] 737 that we’re currently operating. It burns less fuel. It’s an excellent airplane. And certainly in this environment, we would love to retire some of our older aircraft, avoid some expensive maintenance and a substitute with the newer airplanes.”
— CNN’s Gregory Wallace contributed to this report