Boeing Backs-Off its Mid-December MAX Return Claim

The Boeing Company (BA) said last Saturday that global regulators will decide when the 737 MAX returns. Boeing Commerical Airplanes CEO Stan Deal stated this while talking with reporters on November 16, according to Reuters

However, Deal’s latest statement contradicts Boeing’s earlier statement, wherein it hoped to be certified in December. On November 11, Boeing said that it “continues to target FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] certification of the MAX flight control software updates during this quarter.”

FAA shuts down BA hopes about the MAX

However, Boeing’s statement didn’t go well with FAA officials. Reuters, in its November 15 report, states that “U.S. officials privately said this week that Boeing’s timetable was aggressive.” On Thursday, FAA administrator Steve Dickson said that the agency would “take whatever time is needed” for the review. In a memo, Dickson wrote, “This effort is not guided by a calendar or schedule.”

Also, Dickson uploaded a video message on YouTube. In the video, he said the FAA’s safety first moto, according to Reuters. He said, “I know there is a lot of pressure to return this aircraft to service quickly. But I want you to know, that I want you to take the time you need and focus solely on safety. I’ve got your back. The FAA fully controls the approval process.”

Boeing 737 MAX is facing a global flying ban since mid-March following two deadly accidents within five months. Investigators found design flaws in the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) or flight-control systems as the main reason behind the crashes. To fix the problem, the company redesigned the whole architecture of the flight-control system. Now, it must gain recertification for the updated software from the global aviation regulators to fly MAX again.

Uncertainty looms over Boeing MAX return

Since its grounding in mid-March, there have been many delays in getting MAX’s regulatory approval. First, the company submitted its updated software fix for MCAS in June. However, the FAA test pilots found a new problem in the system. This thereby erased hopes of MAX’s July return. They discovered that the updated MCAS takes a long time to respond in a scenario where the aircraft’s nose is pitched down.

In August, there was another setback. This time it was at a briefing to global regulators on 737 MAX software updates. The WSJ (Wall Street Journal) shared regulators’ discontent in its September 1 article. Per WSJ, Boeing “failed to provide technical details and answer specific questions about modifications in the operation of MAX flight-control computers.”

Again, earlier this month, regulators found several flaws in Boeing’s documents about the software fix. In its November 6 report, Reuters said, “Boeing’s paperwork had gaps, was substandard and meant regulators could not complete the audit.”

Airlines to keep the 737 grounded until March

Although Boeing expects airlines to resume MAX flight services in January next year, industry experts don’t buy it. They think airlines need six to eight weeks for necessary pilot training and make stored MAX planes ready to fly again.

Plus, most of the airline operators have removed their MAX fleets from the flying schedule until early March. In the US, Southwest Airlines (LUV), American Airlines (AAL), and United Airlines (UAL) don’t see MAX returning until February. While AAL and UAL extended MAX cancellations through March 4, LUV removed it from the schedule until March 6. Together, these US carriers own 72 Boeing MAX planes.

Boeing’s growth depends on MAX’s return

Boeing’s growth prospects depend on 737 MAX’s return to service. The model accounts for nearly 70% of its overall shipment. However, since the flying ban in mid-March, MAX’s deliveries have remained frozen, gutting Boeing’s total aircraft shipment. In the third quarter, the company recorded a 67% decline in total commercial aircraft deliveries. Thus, Boeing’s Q3 revenues and earnings fell 21% and 59%, respectively, year-over-year.

Also, in the Q3 earnings release, the company said that the MAX fiasco overall cost reached $9.2 billion. Of the total, $3.6 billion is from a rise in production costs due to lower MAX output. The other $5.6 billion relates to an estimated compensation provision for MAX customers. For more details on Boeing’s MAX grounding expenses, read Boeing: Rising Costs, 737 MAX Grounding Continues.