Southwest CEO Flies On The 737 MAX Ahead Of Return To Service

The recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX by the Federal Aviation Administration has allowed airlines to start planning its reintroduction. As the largest operator of the type, American low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines is taking steps to build customer confidence. It reached a significant milestone yesterday when CEO Gary Kelly flew on one of the type’s readiness flights.

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Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly has been in the role since 2004. Photo: Getty Images

A significant aircraft for Southwest

Last month, the FAA recertified the Boeing 737 MAX for commercial use in the USA. This brought to an end a 20-month grounding period following two similar fatal accidents involving the type. In total, 346 passengers and crew lost their lives in the crashes of Lion Air flight 610 (October 2018) and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 (March 2019). As such, operators of the MAX will have to work hard to ensure sufficient customer confidence in the type.

Southwest Airlines is the world’s largest low-cost carrier by revenue. Correspondingly, it is the world’s largest operator of the MAX, having taken delivery of 34 MAX 8 aircraft to date. In total, it has ordered 250 examples of this variant, as well as 30 examples of the smaller MAX 7.

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Every Southwest pilot will be trained on the MAX before it re-enters revenue service with the airline. Photo: Getty Images

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Next year, Southwest expects to take delivery of a further 35 MAX series aircraft. With the MAX set to become a staple of the airline’s fleet, customer confidence in the type is vital. As such, Southwest has pledged that all of its pilots will be trained on the type before its first revenue flight with the carrier.

A very important passenger

Yesterday, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly announced on Twitter that he had flown on one of the type’s pre-reintroduction readiness flights. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker took a similar flight on one of his own airline’s MAX aircraft earlier this month.

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Gary Kelly (second left) with Southwest Airlines crew members onboard the 737 MAX readiness flight yesterday. Photo: Gary Kelly via Twitter

To do so represents a public affirmation of the MAX’s safety on the part of an airline’s CEO. Carriers will hope that these flights result in a further increase in customer confidence in the type. Kelly tweeted:

“Today, I had the opportunity to fly on one of our 737 MAX readiness flights, one of hundreds that will take place before we welcome customers back onboard the MAX in 2021. My flight today only reaffirmed my supreme confidence in the airworthiness of the MAX. Nothing is more sacred to me than the safety of our customers and employees, and I am very proud of our teams who have been hard at work implementing the required software and training updates to return the MAX to service.”

Return to commercial service

Despite the MAX being such a significant aircraft for Southwest, the airline will not be rushing it back into service. Its aforementioned pledge to train all of its pilots on the type will be a time-consuming process. As such, an open letter from CEO Kelly has stated that he estimates its return to come “no sooner than the second quarter of 2021.”

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Southwest presently expects that it will reintroduce its MAX aircraft in Q2 of 2021 at the earliest. Photo: Gary Kelly via Twitter

On the other hand, American Airlines plans to be operating MAX services between New York and Miami from December 29th. Elsewhere in the Americas, both GOL and Aeromexico have already resumed commercial services with the type. With Southwest taking a slower approach to the type’s reintroduction, it will be interesting to see which strategy works best.

What do you make of Gary Kelly’s presence onboard a Southwest 737 MAX readiness flight, and the airline’s less rushed approach to its reintroduction? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.