The Latest on United’s Grounded 737 MAX 9 Fleet

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Earlier this week, Simple Flying reported on the status of Southwest’s grounded fleet of 34 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. As of March 27, Southwest has parked 24 aircraft parked at Victorville Airport (VCV) – the airplane “graveyard” – in the middle of the Mojave Desert in Southern California.

United grounded its fleet of 14 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft at three airports: Houston Hobby (HOU), Houston Intercontinental (IAH), and Los Angeles (LAX). Despite United’s quick grounding of its MAX fleet – all were parked by March 17, four days after the FAA order – one MAX 9 flew on March 27 from New Iberia, LA (ARA) back to Boeing in Seattle (BFI).

United Boeing 737 MAX 9 Grounding
United 737 MAX 9 parked at ARA (New Iberia, LA) on March 27, 2019, after painting. Photo by Sam Roecker.

Despite the grounding, one United 737 MAX 9 flew t0day

Aircraft N27515 – a brand new MAX 9 – was on the ground for nine days in New Iberia, LA (ARA) for aircraft painting. Despite the FAA ban on 737 MAX flying, the aircraft flew back to Seattle (BFI) on March 27.

United 737 MAX 9 Ferry Flight Grounding
A United Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft flew on March 27 on a ferry flight back to Seattle (BFI). Image by GCMap.

How long did the FAA give airlines to ground MAX fleets?

The FAA ordered the grounding of all MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft on March 13, 2019 (you can read the Emergency Order of Prohibition here). The “Order of Prohibition” states,

Boeing 737 MAX series airplanes covered by this Order, if in flight at the time this Order is issued, may proceed to and complete their soonest planned landing, but may not again takeoff.

In other words, a MAX aircraft in-flight at the time of the order could continue on to its final destination – without diverting – but the aircraft would then be grounded. Any flight after that, such as a repositioning or “ferry” flight, would require a special permit with the FAA.

Boeing 737 MAX 9 United Airlines
United Boeing 737 MAX 9 Aircraft. Image by Boeing.

United’s 737 MAX fleet is grounded in Houston and Los Angeles

With just 14 MAX aircraft in its fleet, United was able to ground its fleet faster than Southwest. Nine aircraft are currently on the ground at Houston Hobby Airport (HOU) – notably, an airport United does not serve. Three MAX 9 aircraft are sitting at United’s hub in Houston (IAH) and two MAX 9’s are currently parked at United’s hub in Los Angeles (LAX).

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United grounded three aircraft the same day the FAA ordered the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX fleets on March 13, 2019. Most of the fleet arrived on flights from San Francisco (SFO), but there were a few notable exceptions. Aircraft N37508 flew nonstop from Kona (KOA) to Houston Hobby (HOU), a seven-hour flight that certainly pushes the range capabilities of that aircraft!

American planned to use its MAX 8 aircraft on the seven-hour flight from Miami (MIA) to Brasilia (BSB), although that plan has changed since the grounding – the route will continue on American’s 757 aircraft.

United Boeing 737 MAX 9 Grounded
United ferried a 737 MAX 9 from Kona (KOA) to Houston (HOU) – seven hours on a 737! Image by GCMap.

Additional details on United’s 14 MAX 9 aircraft

The best way to track United’s MAX 9 fleet is to use the aircraft registration (e.g. N67501), listed below. Many thanks to the uber-helpful United Fleet Site for tracking (and sharing!) details on United’s fleet.

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United’s 737 MAX 9 aircraft at Houston Hobby (HOU) – nine aircraft: 

  • N67501 – grounded March 14, 2019
  • N27511 – grounded March 14, 2019
  • N37502 – grounded March 15, 2019
  • N37506 – grounded March 15, 2019
  • N37507 – grounded March 15, 2019
  • N37508 – grounded March 15, 2019
  • N27509 – grounded March 15, 2019
  • N37513 – grounded March 16, 2019
  • N37514 – grounded March 17, 2019

United’s 737 MAX 9 aircraft at Houston Intercontinental (IAH) – three aircraft: 

  • N37510 – grounded March 13, 2019
  • N47505 – grounded March 13, 2019
  • N47512 – grounded March 13, 2019

United’s 737 MAX 9 aircraft at Los Angeles (LAX) – two aircraft: 

  • N27503 – grounded March 13, 2019
  • N37504 – grounded March 13, 2019
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