Aviation History: What’s Next for the 737MAX?

Correspondent, Emma Rasmussen

Image Source: Aerotime

When the 737MAX was grounded in March of 2019 following two deadly crashes abroad, nobody expected the groundings to last over eighteen months. After costing Boeing millions of dollars and thousands of jobs over a troubled two years coupled with the impact of the pandemic, the 737MAX is set to be finally ungrounded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week. Reuters received briefings from three sources intimately familiar with the 737MAX’s ongoing adjustments, and the chief of the FAA informed the news agency that the green light is to occur in the “coming days.” The ungrounding of the aircraft comes nearly a year into the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Boeing’s last projection assessed that the 737MAX would be ungrounded in June or July of 2020 in time for the busy summer travel season, but the FAA had additional recommendations and stipulations before it could allow its recertification. As of November 2020, the FAA is nearing the end of its lengthy review of the adjustments made to the aircraft’s design and software. The aircraft could be allowed to return to the skies as soon as November 18th. FAA chief administrator Steve Dickson informed the media that the process will be complete once the agency is “satisfied” that Boeing has addressed the safety concerns to the fullest extent.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have endorsed the aircraft and the changes made to it, but China’s aviation regulators have yet to give a timeframe on when it will allow the 737MAX back in its skies. The FAA is actively working with aviation authorities worldwide to confirm its forthcoming decision. Europe’s regulators have said that they believe the 737MAX will return to their skies by the end of 2020. The EASA expects their recertification decision to quickly follow the FAA’s. 

While good news for the 737MAX is visible on the horizon, airlines will need at least thirty days to implement the necessary software updates to their aircraft and provide additional and fresh training to their pilots. It is unclear which airline will relaunch the 737MAX first, though American Airlines has put the 737MAX back on its flight schedules for November and December. Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu said the airline will relaunch its fleet in early 2021. Southwest Airlines, which acquired a sizable fleet prior to the grounding, is not optimistic that its relaunch will occur before the second quarter of 2021. Other 737MAX operators have yet to share when they plan to resume 737MAX flights.

According to Bezinga, Boeing shares rose nearly fourteen percent on November 10th following the FAA’s announcement. This was the largest single-day gain for Boeing since June. Unfortunately, however, Boeing lost twelve additional orders for the 737MAX last week, adding to its long list of cancellations. The manufacturer, after severe media scrutiny and intense congressional hearings, has bled hundreds of orders for the aircraft since its grounding. Over 1,000 orders for the 737MAX were removed in October alone. Boeing may regain these orders as the aircraft returns to service and turns over a new leaf; the manufacturer is in negotiations with European budget carrier Ryanair for an order of 200 aircraft. 

Despite the long-awaited ungrounding, the future of the 737MAX remains uncertain as the pandemic rages on. With the aviation industry in its worst downturn since 9/11, the aircraft is returning to more turbulent skies than ever. Boeing’s comeback may be a quiet and muted one, though rumors have emerged that Boeing plans to send a 737MAX on a world tour to regain public trust and “woo” customers. Nevertheless, if the aircraft is able to prove that it has moved on from its troubled past, it might just become another workhorse across fleets worldwide.