A Southwest Airlines Union Forecasts Boeing 737 MAX Return In February

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) does not expect the Boeing 737 MAX to return to service until February 2020. While Boeing is being cautious about predicting a return to service date for the troubled aircraft, American Airlines, United, and Southwest all have said they expect the MAX back in service in mid-January 2020. 

A Southwest Airlines Union Forecasts Boeing 737 MAX Return In February
SWAPA doesn’t think the 737 MAX will be back in the air until February 2020. Photo: Southwest Airlines.

According to a Reuters report, SWAPA thinks this is optimistic. They cannot see the MAX returning to service until February 2020 at the earliest. SWAPA recently initiated legal action against Boeing, claiming compensation in the region of USD$100 million. Boeing has said SWAPA’s claim is meritless and will be defended.

Why SWAPA thinks the MAX won’t fly until February

Simple Flying asked SWAPA why they thought the 737 MAX wouldn’t fly until February. Here’s what they got back to us with.

On October 14, 2019, SWAPA provided an update to its members. The update noted that both the Joint Authorities Technical Review Panel (JATR) and the National Transport Safety Bureau (NTSB) had finished their reviews. SWAPA acknowledges this as a step forward.

But SWAPA notes there is much yet to be done. Boeing needs to submit the final version of its MCAS software and accompanying training to the FAA for simulator testing and certification. SWAPA believes it will be late October to mid-November until this occurs.

SWAPA points out that the European Joint Aviation Operational Evaluation Board needs to submit its recommendations to the FAA’s Flight Standards Board. Owing to some geopolitical issues still being resolved, SWAPA thinks this will happen in late November 2019.

SWAPA has developed an interesting timeline regarding the 737 MAX. Photo: Southwest Airlines

At around the same time, SWAPA expects the FSD to publish its recommendations as an airworthiness directive for the return to service of the 737 MAX. There is a two week period thereafter for public comments.

When the airworthiness directive is issued, it will need to be incorporated into Southwest’s operations and procedures. SWAPA expects that Southwest management has anticipated this and is already on to it. Once this has been done, Southwest Airlines needs to submit its proposed changes to the FAA’s Certificate Management Office for approval. They estimate this will take up to three weeks to happen.

Boeing is still saying that expect the MAX to return to service in Q4 2019. Photo: Southwest Airlines.

Once the approval is made, the Southwest pilots will have to undergo training. They have 30 days to complete this training. SWAPA says Southwest management will put all its pilots through the training before the 737 MAX flies for Southwest Airlines again.

Therefore, SWAPA believes a February 2020 return to service is the best-case scenario for the 737 MAX. But, it says this is an optimistic timeline and a lot depends on Boeing, the FAA and all the other regulators and agencies working together to expedite the process.

There will be no winners

When Simple Flying ran SWAPA’s assessment of the 737 MAX’s return to service timeline by Boeing, spokesman Paul Bergman told us that they haven’t changed their estimate of a 4th quarter 2019 return to service, but noted that regulators will determine the timeline.

Who’s right and who’s wrong here is anybody’s guess. Boeing has been cautious with its timeframes and you’d have to think they’d have a pretty clear understanding of what’s going on. With so much at stake, the airlines too would be well informed. SWAPA’s pilots have a practical on the ground understanding of the processes. Whichever this plays out, there are going to be no winners.