When Will Southwest Resume Boeing 737 MAX Flights?

Yesterday the FAA recertified the Boeing 737 MAX in the United States. Following this, American Airlines reiterated that it would return the aircraft to service on December 29th. Southwest currently has the largest fleet of MAX aircraft, but when will it resume services with the type?

Boeing 737 MAX, Southwest Airlines, Return To Service
Southwest doesn’t expect to return the 737 MAX to service until Q2. Photo: Getty Images

The Boeing 737 MAX was initially grounded back in March 2019. The grounding came following a Lion Air MAX crash in October 2018 and an Ethiopian Airlines MAX Crash in March 2019. Both of the crashes had similar circumstances, with all onboard each flight losing their lives. Since then, only flights for a limited number of reasons, not including carrying passengers, have been permitted.

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Q2 2021 at the earliest?

American Airlines has paved the way for the return of the Boeing 737 MAX, stating that it will resume flights on December 29th. However, Southwest Airlines hasn’t yet specified an exact date. In a letter published yesterday, Southwest’s CEO, Gary Kelly, said,

“There is much work to be done before our MAX aircraft will resume service, which we estimate will likely take place no sooner than the second quarter of 2021.”

Boeing 737 MAX, Southwest Airlines, Return To Service
The airline will have to update the software on each aircraft alongside regular maintenance checks. Photo: Getty Images

What work is there to do before the return?

Southwest has outlined a long road to returning the Boeing 737 MAX to service, above and beyond the FAA’s minimum. From a pilot perspective, every single active pilot at the airline will undergo training on the aircraft.

This means that pilots will need to retake the original computer-based 737 MAX 8 course that they may have completed before the grounding. They will need to complete flight training in one of the airline’s nine flight simulators, alongside even more training on computers regarding procedures on the 737 MAX. This, in itself, will be a mammoth task for the airline.

The airline also needs to get its aircraft ready to fly again. The current situation has taught many of us how aircraft are placed into long term storage and then removed as and when they are needed again. However, the Southwest 737 MAX fleet has been in storage in the Mojave Desert for many more months.

Southwest boeing 737 max grounded getty images
The airline’s 737 MAX aircraft have been resting their wings in the Mojave Desert. Photo: Getty Images

Alongside the regular return to service checks that any stored aircraft has, the 737 MAX will also have several specific checks related to the aircraft’s grounding. The most significant of these will be updating the software to the new version released by Boeing. According to the airline, these changes are essentially,

“…the flight control system that now compares input from two angle of attack sensors as opposed to one; the aircraft only responds if data from both sensors agree and only activates once per event; and Pilots always have the ability to override the aircraft’s input.”

Of course, with no firm date yet placed on the aircraft’s return, it could quickly move forwards or back.

When do you think Southwest will resume 737 MAX flights? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!