Skift Take

Is this finally it? Is the Boeing 737 Max returning to service? American Airlines is more confident than ever that the airplane will be ready by January 16, but that remains to be seen.

American Airlines has canceled Boeing 737 Max flights for six more weeks, through Jan. 15, but finally is targeting a date for the aircraft’s return, the carrier said Wednesday morning.

American is planning to resume Max flights on January 16, saying in a statement it is confident “the impending software updates to the Boeing 737 MAX will lead to recertification of the aircraft later this year and resumption of commercial service in January 2020.” Before Wednesday, American had canceled Max flights through Dec. 3, though the airline had not identified a day for its return.

This is the best news for the Max program in some time. U.S. airlines have repeatedly extended Max cancellations since the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the airplane in mid-March after two crashes in five months. But while airlines have said regulators could clear the aircraft late this year or early next, at least in the United States, none had predicted a firm date for when they would resume flying.

This is no sure thing, either. U.S. regulators have been quiet about when they expect to approve the jet, and on some occasions, airlines expected regulators to re-certify the airplane soon, only to learn that the FAA had found another potential issue.

American has 24 Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes but not all will be ready on Jan. 16. An American spokeswoman said airplanes will be phase into the schedule during late January and into mid-February. Eight jets remain in long-term storage in Roswell, New Mexico, while 16 are at American’s maintenance base in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a spokesman said.

American’s competitors have not yet been so bullish. United Airlines has canceled Max flights through December 19, while Southwest has cut them through January 5, but neither has identified a return-to-service date.

Affect on Customers

Like its competitors, American has perfected how to do less with more during the lengthy grounding period. But American said it expects it will need to cancel roughly 140 flights per day between December 3 and January 15.

Interestingly, American will not cancel any Max flights through Jan. 6. Instead, American will replace Max flights with Boeing 737-800s, and cancel some flights the older generation Boeing jets were supposed to fly. American’s spokeswoman said the American had deployed Max jets on key routes during the holiday period, and the airline sought to protect those flights at the expense of others.

This will change after Jan. 6. Between Jan. 6 and Jan 15, American will cancel both Max and non-Max flights as it tries to made its schedule work.

American or travel agency representatives will contact customers beginning Oct. 13 to let them know if their flights are affected, the airline said.

American executives know some customers may feel skittish about the Max. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz has said his airline will rebook customers who wish not to fly on the airplane, but American has not said whether it will offer a similar option.

In its statement, American said it soon will release details on its policies and procedures for switching flights.


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Tags: american airlines, Boeing, boeing 737 max

Photo credit: American Airlines Boeing 737 Max jets in storage. The airplanes may return to service soon. American Airlines

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