While Southwest Airlines has removed the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from its schedules through October 1, the carrier’s CEO told employees the grounding of the narrow-body aircraft would continue beyond that date. Southwest typically operates 34 of the twin-engine jets, and has orders pending for 277 more.
The grounding means about 115 flights per day have been removed from Southwest’s schedule, while other flights have been rescheduled with different jets.
The 737 MAX is Boeing’s top-selling model but has been idled worldwide after 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 are attributed to an error in the flight-control software.
In late June Boeing announced that fixing the problems with the software would take until at least September. Even that accomplishment would be followed by recertifications and reprogramming of individual jets, leaving it unknown when the jets may resume service.
“I’m sure this will cause us to have to take the MAX out of the schedule beyond October 1,” CEO Gary Kelly announced in an internal update to SWA employees. He added that the carrier may implement other schedule changes, “because it’s obviously extending well beyond what I had hoped.”
Like Southwest, American Airlines and United Airlines have had to cancel 737 MAX flights at least until September 3. Carriers around the world have taken comparable steps since April, as Boeing works with the Federal Aviation Administration, the European Air Safety Administration, and numerous airline customers to implement the necessary updates.