On Friday, Federal Aviation Administrator Steve Dickson called senior U.S. airline officials to tell them that the agency would be able to approve the Boeing 737 MAX’s return to service before mid-year according to sources.
According to Reuters, the call comes just days after Boeing provided an update on the timeline for the plane’s return to service. In its latest periodic briefing regarding the 737 MAX’s return, Boeing said it didn’t expect the aircraft back in service until mid-2020 but acknowledged that regulators would decide when the aircraft flies again.
We reached out to the FAA for comment and this is what they had to say:
“While the FAA continues to follow a thorough, deliberate process, the agency is pleased with Boeing’s progress in recent weeks toward achieving key milestones. Safety is the top priority, and the FAA continues to work with other safety regulators to ensure that Boeing has addressed all known issues with the aircraft.” -FAA Spokesperson
Timeline is ‘very conservative’
The FAA confirmed in a statement that Dickson is reiterating that his agency “has set no time frame for completion of certification work on the aircraft.” However, the administration says that it is “pleased with Boeing’s progress in recent weeks toward achieving key milestones.”
A Reuters source close to the matter said the Boeing mid-year timeline is “very conservative”, meaning that it’s possible FAA approval could happen before mid-year should Boeing continue its current rate of progress. However, unexpected issues could very well arise in the next few months.
Dealing with U.S. carriers
Boeing would certainly be feeling pressure from U.S. carriers as the one-year mark of the grounding draws closer. Carriers American Airlines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines have all pushed back MAX flights in their respective flight schedules.
American Airlines announced 10 days ago that it doesn’t expect to be using its MAX until after 4 June. Southwest has a similar estimation, taking the MAX out until June 6th. In fact, Southwest confirmed that it has to cancel 175 flights a-day until the MAX is back. United even told investors that it does not anticipate operating the 737 MAX this summer.
It’s a relatively good sign if the head of the FAA is confirming that a ‘very conservative’ estimate puts the MAX back in service even before mid-2020. Unfortunately, it’s still possible that many airlines will miss out on at least part of the busy summer season.
If the FAA’s estimate proves accurate, airlines may need to ensure all of their 737 pilots have sufficient MAX simulator training, depending on if the FAA agrees with Boeing and its recommendation. Reuters reports that airlines will need at least 30 days after the FAA grants approval. This time period is for pilot training, software updates and required maintenance.
Do you think this timeline will play out as planned? Or do you think another issue will surface within the next few months? Let us know in the comments!
We also reached out to Boeing with a request for a comment. We’ll update this story if any response is received.