American Airlines and United Airlines confirm their flight schedules will not include the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft until early November, at the soonest, following a comparable decision by Southwest Airlines earlier this month. It is the fourth extension of the cancellations for each airline, meaning that both carriers have removed about 115 flights/day from their schedules.
Boeing Co. has not commented directly on the flight cancellations, but has consistently committed to abide by the Federal Aviation Administration’s requirements in correcting the errors in the aircraft flight-control system.
“Boeing will not offer the 737 MAX for certification by the FAA until we have satisfied all requirements for certification of the MAX and its safe return to service,” the OEM stated in late June.
American has 24 of the Boeing narrow-body jets in service, and orders in place for 76 more. United has 14 of the aircraft in service, and orders for 86 more.
Southwest Airlines is the largest operator of the 737 MAX, with 34 in its fleet, and reportedly has canceled up to 150 flights/day. The Dallas-based carrier was the launch customer for Boeing’s 737 MAX, and is still due to receive 277 more aircraft from its initial order.
The Boeing 737 MAX has been idled worldwide following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight in March, which followed an October 2018 crash for Indonesia’s Lion Air. Boeing halted assembly and delivery on the aircraft series (for which it has an order backlog of more than 4,600 aircraft), and the Federal Aviation Administration, European Air Safety Administration, and other civil aviation regulators, as well as commercial airlines, have suspended the aircraft from service.
A total of 346 passengers and crew members were killed in the two incidents, which Boeing has indicated were caused by a Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), also known as "anti-stall" software, developed to off-set a side-effect of the more fuel-efficient engines adopted for the new version of the 737: because of the engines’ larger size, the planes’ aerodynamic behavior is altered, and the MCAS is meant to counteract a stalling tendency.
Boeing has defined a software update to correct the error, but verifying and testing the fix, and implementing and certifying the updated systems for hundreds of aircraft, may not be completed until early 2020. That is the implication of a new report citing sources in the FAA and pilots’ union.
No clear timeline has been established for the aircraft to return, and the scope of the corrections required by FAA and international regulators has expanded in recent weeks.