As reported yesterday, the U.S. has grounded all Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft until further notice. The move came after most major international regulatory bodies took similar action, notably in the Europe, the U.K., and Canada.
While no one knows for certain how long the grounding will last, it’s safe to assume it will be more than just a few days. Fortunately for U.S. domestic travelers, even though there are about 400 MAX 8 or 9 aircraft in use globally, only 72 of them are currently in operation in the U.S—34 at Southwest, 24 at American, and 14 at United. In each case, that represents a small percentage of the airline’s total fleet, meaning the impact on operations should be minimal. All three airlines put out a statement to that effect.
What the U.S. Airlines with the Planes Are Saying:
Southwest said the “34 MAX 8 aircraft account for less than five percent of our daily flights,” adding, “our goal is to operate our schedule with every available aircraft in our fleet to meet our Customers’ expectations during the busy spring travel season. Additionally, to support our Customers, Southwest is offering flexible rebooking policies. Any Customer booked on a cancelled MAX 8 flight can rebook on alternate flights without any additional fees or fare differences within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city pairs.”
According to American, the airline “operates 85 flights per day on the MAX 8, out of 6,700 departures throughout the American Airlines system.” American also said it is “working to re-route aircraft throughout the system to cover as much of our schedule as we can.” American added that it will “work with all customers impacted by these flight cancellations in order to rebook them to their final destination,” and that customers may request a full refund for flights canceled due to the grounding.
United said it operates around 40 flights per day on MAX 8s, and plans to minimize operational disruptions “through a combination of spare aircraft and rebooking customers.”
How Long Groundings Will Last
For the moment, it’s impossible to say how long this grounding will last. Boeing said is supports the “temporary” grounding “out of an abundance of caution,” but offered no indication of how long the suspension of flights will last. There are some signals that a software fix could be coming the angle of attack sensor, which investigators and officials are focusing on for its potential role in the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes.
“Boeing and the FAA had already settled on a way to address the likely cause of the Lion Air crash,” according to Wired, “and they were well on their way to implementing it when the Ethiopian plane went down.”
Whether a fix exists or not, the possibility of an extended investigation—and an extended grounding—seems to grow by the day. The emerging similarities between the two crashes, plus the fact that the FAA seems to have approved an aircraft with a potentially serious software flaw, suggests there could be a lot investigators will want to understand before returning these planes to the sky.
Readers: Would you get on another Boeing 737 MAX 8 or 9 after the crashes? Comment below.