When Will Boeing Complete The 737 MAX Recertification?

Over the last year, there have been hundreds of different timelines for the Boeing 737 MAX recertification and return to service. However, on Monday, a recertification flight occurred, marking a big step forward for the plane. Despite this, the timeline remains fluid, and it is unclear when the MAX will return. Most, however, are still hoping for the return to service by the end of this year.

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With the first recertification flights completed, the MAX could be approaching the end of its global grounding. Photo: Getty Images

What the FAA is saying

While Boeing would, undoubtedly, prefer the MAX back in commercial service sooner rather than later, the timeline is firmly in the hands of the FAA and other government agencies. The FAA and Boeing are running a series of certification flights this week. These flights are evaluating Boeing’s proposed changes to the flight control system on the MAX.

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The FAA is looking closely at the flight control system, particularly MCAS. Photo: Getty Images

The FAA has said,

“The certification flights are expected to take approximately three days. They will include a wide array of flight maneuvers and emergency procedures to assess whether the changes meet FAA certification standards. The tests are being conducted by test pilots and engineers from the FAA and Boeing.”

As for a timeline, the FAA has not outlined a timeframe for when the MAX will return to service. While making progress this week, the FAA notes that other tasks must be fulfilled before the plane takes to the skies again for commercial flight:

“While the certification flights are an important milestone, a number of key tasks remain. The FAA is following a deliberate process and will take the time it needs to thoroughly review Boeing’s work. We will lift the grounding order only after we are satisfied that the aircraft meets certification standards.”

In fact, the FAA Chief, Stephen Dickson, has indicated that he will pilot the aircraft before it is recertified.

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The FAA has not indicated a timeline for recertification. Photo: Getty Images

What airlines are saying

Airlines are closely monitoring what is happening with the 737 MAX. Southwest’s CEO is expecting the MAX to return to service by the fourth quarter of 2020. Meanwhile, American Airlines has currently scheduled the MAX to return to service in August.

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Southwest is anticipating flying the MAX by the end of the year. Photo: Getty Images

Airlines, however, will be flying the 737 MAX a little after the airplane is recertified. There has to be time to prepare the fleet for reactivation and conduct any sort of software or maintenance updates as mandated by international regulatory agencies. Also, some airlines may choose to fly journalists, key stakeholders, and executives onboard the aircraft as part of a demonstration of the aircraft’s safety before returning the jet to passenger service.

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American is still hoping the MAX will be back in the air by August. Photo: Getty Images

Moreover, airlines will want to ensure that they have enough aircraft to cover any sort of operational hiccups that may occur. In the case of a plane swap, the airline needs to make sure it has accurate coverage. This would likely see a carrier waiting to have a decent number of jets ready for passenger services out of a single base before resuming passenger flights.

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Boeing also has a significant backlog of MAX aircraft to deliver. Photo: Getty Images

A shifting timeline

Over the last year, the timeline for the reentry has shifted by as much as months. First, airlines expected the MAX to require a quick fix that would see it up in the air after only about four months. That increased soon enough to six. Then it went up to a nine-month grounding. Finally, after the grounding crossed a year, airlines pushed the return to service out to about an 18-month grounding.

Whether 2020 sees the MAX fly passengers again remains to be seen, however. It is quite possible that the MAX is not recertified in all countries simultaneously. This would see a limited return to service.

When do you think the MAX will fly again? Let us know in the comments!