Why the Boeing MAX Could Be Further Delayed

An expert thinks US airlines are being too optimistic about Boeing’s (BA) 737 MAX returning in early March. Aviation safety expert Alan Diehl talked about the Boeing MAX’s return to service during CNBC’s show, Power Lunch.

Major US airlines Southwest (LUV), American (AAL), and United (UAL) expect to resume their Boeing MAX services in early March 2020. Together, the three carriers own 72 Boeing MAX planes and have canceled over 50,000 flights because of its grounding in mid-March 2019. Southwest and United have announced they intend to keep the MAX grounded until March 4, and American has removed all MAX flights from its schedule through March 6.

However, Diehl said, “It’s probably slightly optimistic.” He added, “It’s going to depend on the reaction of the stakeholders, the unions, the airlines, the other regulatory authorities.” During the show, Diehl said he doesn’t foresee MAXs receiving regulatory recertification for at least three months.

The safety expert argued that even if Boeing receives US regulatory certification, other regulatory bodies may block the MAX’s return. Negative comments from the public could also further delay MAX services.

Diehl’s comments mean a lot, as he’s a well-known aviation safety consultant. He’s worked for the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Latest hurdle in the Boeing MAX’s return

Diehl may be correct in thinking the MAX will be delayed. The FAA has adopted a new approach for certifying MAX planes, creating a fresh hurdle for Boeing. On Tuesday, the FAA notified Boeing that it would exercise full control over the certification of every 737 MAX assembled. The approach is in contrast with the US regulator’s typical process.

According to Reuters, the FAA traditionally looks after certifying the aircraft type only, delegating other activities such as individual plane checking to the planemaker. However, the FAA will now review the airworthiness of every MAX plane before it gets delivered to the customer.

The new approach is likely to be time consuming, further delaying the MAX’s return to service. With a monthly output of 42 units, Boeing is set to have about 380 MAX planes in storage by the end of this year.

Furthermore, the FAA said it would take all the time it needs to complete the safety review. The regulatory body disclosed that it hasn’t yet finished reviewing design changes and pilot training.

Boeing also needs to rectify its documents for the certification audit of MAX’s updated software. Earlier this month, global regulators couldn’t complete the review due to several flaws found in the documentation.

Considering these issues, we agree with Diehl and don’t see the MAX returning in the first quarter of 2020. However, Boeing has said that it expects to get regulatory certification in mid-December and resume MAX deliveries. The aircraft manufacturer also anticipates airlines resuming their MAX services in January.