Boeing said Monday it expects the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to clear the grounded 737 MAX as safe to fly again in late December, but the FAA likely won’t finalize a new MAX pilot training regimen until January.
That means Boeing may be able to resume deliveries of the jet to airlines before year end, but that the airplanes won’t be cleared to carry passengers until as much as a month later.
The airlines need at least a further month to get the planes out of mothballs and their pilots trained. This explains why both American and Southwest on Friday took the MAX out of their flight schedules until early March.
Boeing also laid out the specific milestones that must be completed ahead of the MAX’s return to service, and said the first was completed last week. That clear view of the limited steps remaining boosted Boeing stock to close at $366.96, up $16.41 or nearly 4.7 percent.
Once the U.S. airlines have full clearance to fly the MAX, they will need 30 to 40 days to get the planes ready and to put thousands of pilots through the training. They will then introduce the MAX only slowly into their schedules.
While it’s possible that the MAX’s return to service could slip further, omitting the MAX from flight schedules until March will provide certainty for passengers booking now for the early part of the busy spring break period.
Boeing said Monday that within the past week it has completed with the FAA an extensive evaluation of its new MAX software in its flight simulators in Seattle.
The software fix has two parts:
- An upgrade to make safe the flight control system — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) — that activated erroneously on the two crashed flights, in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
- A change to the overall software architecture of the MAX so that its systems take data from both flight control computers on each flight, instead of only one as previously.
Boeing said the next steps are:
- A separate, multiday simulator session with airline pilots to assess human factors and crew workload under various test conditions.
- An FAA certification flight test.
- Boeing’s final submittal of its complete upgrade package to the FAA.
- Another multiday simulator session with pilots representing air safety regulators from around the world to validate training requirements.
- The FAA’s Flight Standardization Board will then release a report on the training requirements for a public comment period, followed by final approval of the training.
That last step is what’s now anticipated in late January, clearing the way for U.S. airlines to fly passengers on the MAX in early March.
Unlike American and Southwest, United — the third U.S. airline with MAXs grounded and awaiting clearance — has not yet updated its flight schedule.
Foreign regulators are expected to lag somewhat behind the FAA. Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), told trade magazine Aviation Week last month that his agency is likely to clear the MAX as safe to fly in January, a month after the FAA.
“The FAA and other regulatory authorities will ultimately determine return to service in each relevant jurisdiction,” Boeing said. “This may include a phased approach and timing may vary by jurisdiction.”
In a note to investors, Wall Street analyst Doug Harned of Bernstein Research said Boeing’s MAX deliveries in December “will most likely be on paper and not necessarily the physical transfer of the asset.”
Harned said that once the FAA and EASA clear the MAX to fly, most other foreign regulators, including Turkey, India, and the United Arab Emirates, will follow quickly. “China and Russia, however, may take longer,” he wrote.