Boeing says it is “possible” regulators could give the all clear to resume deliveries of the grounded 737 MAX in December 2019.
The airframer said in a statement on Monday (US time) the certification of the aircraft by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could take place before the end of calendar 2019.
“While the FAA and other regulatory authorities will determine the timing of certification and return to commercial service, Boeing continues to target FAA certification of the MAX flight control software updates during this quarter,” the Boeing statement said.
“Based on this schedule, it is possible that the resumption of MAX deliveries to airline customers could begin in December, after certification, when the FAA issues an Airworthiness Directive rescinding the grounding order.
“In parallel, we are working towards final validation of the updated training requirements, which must occur before the MAX returns to commercial service, and which we now expect to begin in January.”
Further, Boeing said the return to service “may include a phased approach and timing may vary by jurisdiction”.
The aerospace giant has been working on software improvements and changes to pilot training procedures following the two fatal crashes involving the 737 MAX.
The first accident involving a Lion Air 737 MAX 8 occurred in October 2018. This was followed less than six months later with an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 in March 2019. The two tragedies killed 346 people. There were no survivors.
An anti-stall software on the 737 MAX, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), has been implicated in both incidents.
Boeing said on Monday it had completed a eCab simulator certification session with the FAA in the past week.
The work involved a “multi-day eCab simulator evaluation with the FAA to ensure the overall software system performs its intended function, both normally and in the presence of system failures”.
This was one of five key milestones that had to be completed with the FAA before the 737 MAX returned to service, Boeing said.
The remaining four milestones comprised:
- FAA line pilots crew workload evaluation: A separate, multi-day simulator session with airline pilots to assess human factors and crew workload under various test conditions.
- FAA certification flight test: FAA pilots will conduct a certification flight(s) of the final updated software.
- Boeing Final Submittal to the FAA: After completion of the FAA certification flight, Boeing will submit the final certification deliverables and artifacts to the FAA to support software certification.
- Joint operational evaluation board (JOEB) simulator training evaluation: The JOEB, a multi-regulatory body, conducts a multi-day simulator session with global regulatory pilots to validate training requirements. Following the simulator session, the flight standardisation board (FSB) will release a report for a public comment period, followed by final approval of the training.
On Monday, American Airlines pushed back its expected return to scheduled commercial service of its 737 MAX fleet to March 5 2020.
Previously, the carrier had been working to having its 24 737 MAX 8 aircraft back in the air by January 16 2020.
Also, American said it expected to conduct some non-scheduled flights with its 737 MAXes ahead of its commercial return to service.
“Once the aircraft is certified, American expects to run exhibition flights, or flights for American team members and invited guests only, prior to March 5,” American said.
Similarly, Southwest Airlines has delayed its expected return of the 737 MAX by another month to March 6 2020, from February 8 2020 previously.
The airline said this latest update removed about 175 weekday flights from the airline’s schedule out of a total peak-day schedule of more than 4,000 daily services.
“By proactively removing the MAX from scheduled service, we can reduce last-minute flight cancellations and unexpected disruptions to our Customers’ travel plans,” Southwest said.
“The limited number of customers who have already booked their travel and will be affected by our amended schedule will be notified of their re-accommodated travel according to our flexible accommodation procedures.”