American Airlines and Southwest confirmed on Friday that they both were extending the cancellation of Boeing 737MAX services until at least March 2020. The news comes as the chances of Boeing winning recertification of the controversial aircraft before the end of the year looks less and less certain following a series of embarrassing setbacks during the approval process.
Saying that it “anticipated” the resumption of scheduled Boeing 737MAX services starting March 5, 2020, American Airlines attempted to allay fears about the aircraft’s safety by promising a series of exhibition flights before commercial operations begin. That timeline would suggest American Airlines expects the 737MAX to gain recertification in February 2020.
The Dallas Fort Worth-based airline has promised show flights solely for team members, including flight attendants, in an attempt to prove the aircraft is safe to fly. Earlier this month, Lori Bassani who head’s the Association of Professional Flight Attendants told CNBC that her members could veto working on the 737MAX if they weren’t convinced of its safety.
Sara Nelson, who heads the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) – the union that represents flight attendants at United and has also started a high-profile campaign to unionize Delta’s crew workforce – echoed Bassani’s threat of banning flight attendants from stepping foot on the plane.
United has currently only wiped 737MAX flights from its schedules until January 2020 but is likely to follow American and Southwest in extending the cancellation period. United has previously said it will allow passengers who are unhappy about flying on the 737MAX to change their flights for free once the aircraft has been recertified.
According to a new Bloomberg report, the approval process is taking much longer than first expected because of a simulator computer glitch in June that mimicked how the 737MAX behaved before crashing in Indonesia and Ethiopia killing a total of 346 people. What had started as creating a software patch for the initial problem that led to the deadly crashes has turned into a complete rewrite of critical software systems.
Citing sources who are said to be familiar with the matter, Bloomberg said tensions between Boeing and aviation regulators have been on the rise as officials demand ever more documentation. Boeing initially said it was confident the 737MAX would be recertified within months of being grounded worldwide in March. The company has since said it remains committed to winning approval before year-end.
American Airlines believes the 737MAX grounding will have cost it around $540 million in yearly earnings, while Southwest says its profits could be hit by as much as $435 million. As an all 737 operator, Southwest has become reliant on the MAX for its future growth plans.