Southwest pulls 737 MAX until March, almost a year after grounding

Nellie Chapman
November 10, 2019

MCAS was created to compensate for the 737 Max having larger engines than previous 737 generations. But Boeing Co is facing increasing hurdles in winning approval to return the plane to service before the end of this year as it has targeted. The airline cited "continued uncertainty around the timing of Max return to service" and added it is "unable to provide an update on first quarter capacity guidance at this time".

United Airlines, the other USA 737 MAX operator, had thus far cancelled flights into January, although it may yet have to extend that time frame.

Reuters reported this week that USA and European regulators will need to return to a Rockwell Collins facility in Iowa to complete an audit of Boeing's software documentation after regulators found gaps and substandard documents. Southwest had originally grounded the plane through February 8, and has now extended that grounding through March 6, the biggest delay from a USA carrier.

The planes have been grounded globally since mid-March following two crashes that killed 346 people.

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The return-to-service dates provided by the airlines are hardly set in stone, considering they're contingent upon Boeing completing its work to fix problems with the plane, and regulators' acceptance that those changes are sufficient. The FAA said it would take 30 days after the certification flight before it would unground the plane. according to Reuters.

The revision will remove an estimated 175 weekday flights from its schedule out of roughly 4,000 daily flights.

The groundings also mean Southwest won't be taking delivery of seven more 737 Max planes this quarter and is supposed to get 34 more after that. The agency declined to comment on Friday, saying it will send a letter in response to the committee. Southwest's chief executive, Gary Kelly, has repeatedly said he is "not happy" with the Max situation.

The jet's flight control system - including the so-called MCAS anti-stall system - played a role in the crashes of both the Ethiopian Airlines flight in March this year and in the Lion Air flight in October last year.

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