American Airlines and Southwest Airlines again removed the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from their flight schedules, this time through March 2020, continuing the uncertainty for those Boeing customers about the future availability of the narrow-body aircraft. American cleared the schedule through March 4, meaning it could resume use of the jets on March 5. Southwest Airlines, the largest U.S. operator of the 737 MAX, now has cleared its schedule through March 6.
These postponements would mean roughly 12 months of lost service on the aircraft for the 50 airline customers that have taken delivery of the updated 737 aircraft since Boeing made it available in 2017. Southwest Airlines, the launch customer and the largest operator of the 737 MAX, with 34 in its fleet, reportedly has canceled up to 150 flights/day. The Dallas-based carrier is still due to receive 277 more aircraft from its initial order.
American has 24 of the Boeing narrow-body jets in service, and orders in place for 76 more.
United Airlines, another major airline operating the 737 MAX with 14 jets and orders for 86 more, has canceled its affected flights through early January. Reportedly, American and United each have removed about 115 flights/day from their schedules.
The 737 MAX is Boeing’s best-selling aircraft, but the program has been idled and all the aircraft have been grounded worldwide for eight months following two fatal crashes in October 2018 and March 2019, now blamed on the aircraft’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). MCAS is an "anti-stall" software meant to counter aerodynamics effects of the redesigned jets’ larger engines.
A revised MCAS has been developed and is undergoing review now, to be installed in the 385 aircraft in place with various carriers, and over 4,900 still in production or on order for future delivery.
Recently, the European Air Safety Administration executive director Patrick Ky said that agency is on track to approve the narrow-body aircraft to resume commercial service in January, but that individual EU nations’ civil aviation authorities as well as the airline operators may require more time to implement the service resumption.
The Federal Aviation Administration has not indicated a date when it may approve the revised MCAS and approve the 737 MAX to resume commercial service.
The agency and Boeing lately have appeared at odds over allegations that the pre-certification review of the 737 MAX was mishandled prior to its commercial introduction in 2017.