US Airlines Extend Boeing 737 MAX Grounding To 1 Year

Southwest Airlines, one of the largest airlines in the world, has today made a bold move. They are the first airline in the world to ground the Boeing 737 MAX until March 2020– one year after the type was first grounded. Then, American Airlines followed suit.

Boeing 737 MAX Southwest
Southwest Airlines is now the first airline to officially ground the 737 MAX for one year. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest grounds the Boeing 737 MAX until March

Reuters reports that Southwest Airlines is pulling the 737 MAX from schedules until March 2020. Back in March 2019, the 737 MAX faced a worldwide grounding after two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Since then, major scrutiny has revealed issues with the 737 MAX and diminished the credibility of both Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Southwest 737 MAX
The 737 MAX has been grounded since March 2019. Photo: Southwest Airlines

March 2020 will mark one year from the start of the 737 MAX grounding. More importantly, this makes Southwest Airlines the first airline to remove the aircraft from schedules for a year.

However, there is something to note about this. Although Southwest Airlines is pulling the type from service through to that date, it does not mean that regulatory agencies will not certify the type before then. Rather, this instead gives Southwest Airlines some breathing room to take the necessary measures for the safe return of the type to passenger service.

Southwest 737 MAX
Southwest will need time to return the type to service. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines provided Simple Flying the following statement:

Based on continued uncertainty around the timing of MAX return to service, the Company soon plans to proactively remove the MAX from its flight schedule through March 6, 2020.

CEO Gary Kelly added the following at an earnings call on October 24th:

So along the way between now and mid-December, if we judge that that date won’t be met, we’ll roll our schedule yet again. So recall that our second quarter assumption was that Boeing delivered by the end of September, so we’re about three to four weeks behind that, which is why we’ve moved from what was a January 6 date to February 8.
So the closer we get, the more confident I am. However, I am still not highly confident about mid-December. I think Ryan has already made that clear. But what’s important, of course, is that we give the FAA the time that they need to do their job, which I know they will. And of course we’re here to support them every way that we can.

Southwest and the 737 MAX

Only Boeing 737 family aircraft make up Southwest’s fleet. And, amid this grounding, reports have been swirling about whether or not Southwest could introduce Airbus aircraft into its fleet. For now, however, Southwest has not placed any firm orders.

Such a change would be huge for Southwest. The airline is well-known for standardization including exclusively flying 737-family aircraft and only offering economy class onboard all its aircraft.

Southwest Airlines 737 MAX interior
Southwest Airlines operates all of its 737s in an all-economy configuration. Photo: Southwest Airlines

American Airlines follows suit

In a press release, American Airlines announced that they were extending their own grounding of the 737 MAX until March 2020. This leaves United Airlines as the only major carrier still retaining the 737 MAX in schedules prior to March 2020.

American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX
American Airlines is removing the 737 MAX from schedules until March of 2020. Photo: Nathan Coats via Flickr

The 737 MAX is undergoing intense scrutiny

Various regulators around the world have trained their focus on the aircraft. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the FAA recently asked Boeing to alter some of their documentation regarding the software fix. Notably, while the EASA has expressed some confidence in regards to when the 737 MAX could fly again, the FAA has been quite tight-lipped.

Southwest Airlines 737 MAX interior
Southwest has to wait for regulators to approve the 737 MAX for passenger service. Photo: Southwest Airlines

This uncertainty has led to Southwest’s decision to pull the type from service until March. As the world’s largest customer for the 737 MAX, this is a huge sign. Removing the aircraft from schedules for a longer period of time increases costs for Southwest and also puts a strain on their operations.

However, it seems the carrier is taking the “better safe than sorry” path and pulling the aircraft from service for a longer period of time in order to restore certainty to their operations.

Southwest 737 MAX
As the world’s largest 737 MAX customer, Southwest’s move is a big one. Photo: Southwest Airlines

What do you think about the situation with the 737 MAX? Is Southwest Airlines making the right move? Let us know in the comments!