American Airlines says it believes the troubled Boeing 737 Max will return to commercial services on 5 March 2020 based on guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The airline has cancelled flights through 15 January as a result of the grounding of the 737 Max, which was involved in two crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
Now, American says it expects to run flights for its team members and invited guests after the aircraft is certified prior to 5 March. Passengers booked on scheduled services due to be operated by the plane through 4 March will be notified of any changes to their reservations.
Once it is cleared to fly again, American expects to re-introduce the aircraft in phases, meaning there may still be some disruption to services after 5 March until the full fleet is operational.
Furthermore, flights that are not scheduled to be operated by a 737 Max might be cancelled “to enable our team to cover a Max route with a different aircraft”, according to the airline.
The Boeing 737 Max has been grounded since March following an Ethiopian Airlines crash in which 157 people died. Five months prior to this, the same model was involved in a Lion Air accident that killed 189 people.
The investigation of the Lion Air crash concluded that the 737 Max’s Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was a factor in the fatal accident.
An independent probe by the National Transportation Safety Board found the pilots in both incidents may have been overwhelmed by a number of alerts and warnings that were not included in simulator tests during the aircraft’s safety assessments.
A former Boeing employee claimed the manufacturer pressured engineers to downplay some of the new features of the 737 Max, such as the MCAS, as minor changes in order to avoid increased scrutiny from the FAA.
Boeing has admitted it made “mistakes” in the original certification process for the 737 Max, with CEO Dennis Muilenburg telling US lawmakers the company had “learned from both accidents and identified changes that need to be made”.
However, congressman Albio Sires later read from a leaked email sent to the general manager of the 737 Max programme in June 2018 in which a senior manager said his assembly team were fatigued from having to speed up production on the aircraft. The accuser went so far as to say he was “hesitant” to allow his family to fly on the plane.
Boeing said it believes the FAA will certify the aircraft and lift the grounding order in this quarter, adding that airline deliveries of the Max could resume as early as December. Based on that estimate, the company is targeting January to begin validation of the updated training requirements – something it said must be done before the planes can return to commercial service.
The company is also facing scrutiny on its 787 Dreamliner production after a whistleblower claimed he had discovered a fault with the emergency oxygen systems used on the aircraft but that Boeing had done nothing to rectify the issue.