The beleaguered Boeing 737 MAX family of aircraft will soon return to the skies. Earlier this week, the FAA announced in a press release that the changes made by Boeing have been approved.
“FAA Administrator Steve Dickson today signed an order (PDF) that paves the way for the Boeing 737 MAX to return to commercial service. Administrator Dickson’s action followed a comprehensive and methodical safety review process (PDF) that took 20 months to complete. During that time, FAA employees worked diligently to identify and address the safety issues that played a role in the tragic loss of 346 lives aboard Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.”
The Return Isn’t Immediate. Each airline must follow a process
The FAA press release was very clear that approval to fly again will require adherence to the Airworthiness Directive and approval of a training plan. The FAA states, “In addition to rescinding the order that grounded the aircraft, the FAA today published an Airworthiness Directive (PDF) specifying design changes that must be made before the aircraft returns to service, issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) (PDF), and published the MAX training requirements. (PDF) These actions do not allow the MAX to return immediately to the skies.”
“The FAA must approve 737 MAX pilot training program revisions for each U.S. airline operating the MAX and will retain its authority to issue airworthiness certificates and export certificates of airworthiness for all new 737 MAX aircraft manufactured since the FAA issued the grounding order. Furthermore, airlines that have parked their MAX aircraft must take required maintenance steps to prepare them to fly again.”
Let’s take a look at each airline’s plan to return to service
Southwest’s Shares Their to return their 34 737-MAX 8 Fleet
Southwest operates the largest fleet of Boeing 737-MAX8 jets (34 delivered thus far) with a slew of -7s and -8s on order. After the FAA announcement, Southwest released a video and timetable graphic (see below).
According to a Southwest press release, “Before we return the aircraft to customer service, however, every active Southwest Pilot will complete additional FAA-required flight training in one of our nine 737 MAX simulators and will complete additional FAA-required computer-based training covering MAX procedures. Southwest will also require active Pilots to re-take our original 737 MAX 8 computer-based differences training as a refresher to complement the FAA-required training. Additionally, Southwest will conduct multiple readiness flights on each of our 34 MAX aircraft and complete thousands of hours of work, inspections, and the software updates before any of our Customers board a Southwest 737 MAX.”
Bottom line is that they have not announced a return to service date but in the graphic below, they have indicated that the jet likely won’t fly until at least the second quarter of 2021.
American Plans Return of the MAX with retraining and Public Relations Push
American Airlines laid out a plan to return their fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets. In a press release, American COO David Seymour stated that “if our pilots, along with the APA, FAA and our safety teams are confident the aircraft is safe, we are confident in its return to service. We’ve implemented rigorous processes to ensure that every plane in the air is safe and our pilots, flight attendants, team members and customers are confident in the return of the 737 MAX.”
Like Southwest, American plans to update their jets to make them compliant with the Airworthiness Directives (AD). The airline also plans retrain their pilots to include MAX-specific simulator training. “Our approximately 2,600 Boeing 737 pilots will complete the FAA-mandated and approved training, which includes computer-based training, classroom briefings and dedicated return to service training in a 737 MAX simulator.”
American is targeting a return to commercial service by December 29th . According to American, “we will resume scheduled service with two flights a day — or one round trip from MIA to LGA — through Jan. 4. After that, we expect to gradually phase more 737 MAX aircraft into revenue service throughout January, with up to 36 departures from our Miami hub depending on the day of the week.” American will allow any passenger who doesn’t want to fly on the MAX to reschedule at no charge.
UNitd Airlines Plans To Resume Service On the Max in Early 2021
United Airlines has an entire site dedicated to the return on their MAX fleet. According to their page, United “expects to begin flying the 737 MAX in the first quarter next year.” They also posted a video that discusses the return to service.
Much like American Airlines, United will require all pilots to undergo simulator training. The airline also details the required updates that they will make to the jet before it returns to flight.