The Boeing 737 MAX, which hasn’t flown commercially since March 2019, could be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration in the next couple of weeks. Sources have told media that the process is in its final stages, citing November 18th as the possible date for the ungrounding. It would be a huge milestone for Boeing and would mark the beginning of the end of this crisis.
The MAX could fly by November 18th
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could be just days away from certifying the beleaguered 737 MAX aircraft to fly once more. According to reporting from Reuters, the administration is in the final stages of reviewing changes and is preparing to announce it is ready to go.
Sources told the publication that the precise date for the grounding to be lifted could be as soon as November 18th. FAA administrator told Reuters,
“This process will be finished in the coming days, once the agency is satisfied that Boeing has addressed. “The FAA continues to engage with aviation authorities around the world as they prepare to validate our certification decision.
“As I have said many times before, the agency will take the time that it needs to thoroughly review the remaining work. Even though we are near the finish line, I will lift the grounding order only after our safety experts are satisfied that the aircraft meets certification standards.”
Boeing has been saying for some time that it hoped for a positive outcome for the aircraft type within the fourth quarter of 2020. An ungrounding in the next couple of weeks would be a huge milestone for the US planemaker, allowing it to begin to recover from the damaged reputation and financial strife caused by this crisis.
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What’s next for the MAX?
Once the FAA gives the 737 MAX the green light, it is only the beginning of a long road to getting the type back into service. Airlines must then undertake a swathe of software updates for their existing fleets, while pilots will need to undertake the FAA-approved training to fly the MAX.
This process is expected to take several weeks, at least 30 days before we’ll see any 737 MAX entering active service. However, some airlines predict a much longer lead-in before the MAX will begin working as part of their scheduled fleet.
Southwest Airlines, which had the largest number of 737 MAX in its fleet at the time of the grounding, has said it expects several months of work in order to comply with all FAA requirements. As such, it is not anticipating entering the MAX into its schedules until the second quarter of 2021.
Other airlines are more positive. For example, American Airlines has mooted beginning to add the MAX to schedules as early as December and will undertake customer tours of the aircraft beforehand in a bid to restore passenger confidence. Air Canada’s CEO, Calin Rovinescu, has said that he expects the MAX to be back in the fleet from the first quarter of 2021, although the airline has also removed some orders from the books.
What about other regulators?
If the FAA certification does come soon, it opens the door for other regulators to begin recertifying the type to fly. While, in the past, regulators would often simply follow the FAA’s lead, in this situation, many have expressed a wish to undertake their own assessment of the type.
Speaking at today’s World Travel Market Virtual, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said he hopes the European Aviation Safety Regulator (EASA) would move quickly to certify the type. He said,
“It looks now like the MAX 8 that was grounded will be licensed by the FAA to return to service at the end of November. We hope EASA here licenses in early January to mid-January the MAX 8 to return to service.”
Ryanair is waiting for its own delivery of MAX aircraft, a unique version called the MAX-200. This will need to be separately certified, but with the MAX 8 ready to fly, O’Leary hopes to see movement on this rapidly in 2021. Overall, Ryanair is hoping to fly a fleet of 30 737 MAX by next summer.