Boeing does not expect its grounded 737 Max aircraft to return to the skies “before mid-2020” – more than a year after the model was grounded.
The 737 Max has been grounded since March 2019 following two fatal crashes in just five months, killing all 346 people onboard the two flights.
Lion Air flight 610 came down shortly after taking off from Jakarta in October 2018. Then, in March 2019, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed en route to Nairobi.
The update will come as a further blow to several European carriers with Max fleets – Tui last year recorded a near €300 million loss on account of the Max being grounded for the entire summer, while Ryanair’s plans to refresh its fleet with 135 new Max aircraft have been put on hold and the carrier forced to cut planned increases in capacity.
Boeing had been working to a late-2019, early-2020 schedule for the Max’s return, but these estimates slipped back late last year amid fresh concerns over the aircraft’s safety.
Boeing subsequently announced it would halt production of the troubled model in the new year, and last week confirmed it had found another issue with the aircraft’s software.
The manufacturer has been working on a fix for a deep-seated control system, understood to have been responsible for the two fatal crashes.
Tuesday’s admission (21 January) that the Max will likely be out of action for at least another six months is the first significant longer-term estimate Boeing has placed on the Max’s scheduled return.
Boeing said the outlook would allow customers and suppliers to “plan their operations”, adding the mid-2020 estimate was informed by its experience to date of the certification process.
“It is subject to our ongoing attempts to address known schedule risks and further developments that may arise in connection with the certification process,” said Boeing in a statement. “It also accounts for the rigorous scrutiny regulatory authorities are rightly applying at every step of their review of the 737 Max’s flight control system.”
Boeing added the delay was also subject to determination of new pilot training requirements. Earlier this month, the company said it now recommends Max pilots take fresh simulator and computer-based training before the aircraft returns to service.
“Returning the Max safely to service is our number-one priority, and we are confident that will happen,” said Boeing. “We acknowledge and regret the continued difficulties the grounding of the 737 Max has presented to our customers, our regulators, our suppliers and the flying public.
“We will provide additional information about our efforts to safely return the 737 Max to service in connection with our quarterly financial disclosures next week.”