The Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes that were taken out of service earlier this year following a pair of fatal crashes will not return to the skies in 2019. American, Southwest, and United have all removed the aircraft from their schedules until January 2020, meaning the aircraft will be grounded for at least 10 months before they take off again.
Boeing has said the 737 MAX 8 would be re-approved by the end of the year, but the FAA has not publicly committed to that timeline. The FAA is handling this process very deliberately, as its own oversight (or, lack thereof) is at the heart of the situation. It’s generally accepted that other similar agencies, such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), will wait longer than the FAA to re-certify the MAX 8 themselves. If and when the plane is cleared to fly, the planes will likely be phased in slowly over several weeks or months.
The grounding was initially thought to be a manageable inconvenience. Neither airline flies many of the MAX 8 aircraft, so their absence was fairly easy to cover up. But as the grounding stretches on and enters the busy holiday period, travelers and airlines alike are feeling the pinch. Bumping spiked this summer partially due to the 737 MAX grounding, and airlines are struggling to maintain expanded capacity.
As has been the case throughout this saga, the questions go well beyond simply when the 737 MAX will fly again. Will anyone want to fly on these planes even once they’re cleared?
Boeing (and the FAA) Under Fire
While it works on a fix, Boeing is also starting to face the music: CEO Dennis Muilenburg was stripped of his Chairman role last week as he focuses on getting the MAX back in the air. That move came on the heels of a what Bloomberg calls a “scathing” report outlining “missteps by the company and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in the development and certification of the MAX.”
According to Bloomberg, “Boeing exerted ‘undue pressures’ on some of its own employees who had FAA authority to approve design changes,” and “regulators assessing the aircraft sometimes didn’t follow their own rules, used outdated procedures, and lacked the resources and expertise to fully vet the design changes implicated in two fatal crashes.”
The New York Times added the report also found that “the Federal Aviation Administration relied heavily on Boeing employees to vouch for the safety of the MAX and lacked the ability to effectively analyze much of what Boeing did share about the new plane.”
“This report confirms our very worst fears about a broken system,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, according to the Times. “To put the fox in charge of the henhouse never made any sense, and now we see the deeply tragic consequences.”
The Boeing CEO is set to testify before Congress later this month. It remains unclear when exactly the planes will be back on airline schedules.
Readers: Are you surprised the Boeing saga is dragging on for so long? Are you nervous about flying on a 737 MAX again? Comment below.