Commentary

Boeing's 737 MAX Hits More PR Turbulence As Airlines Delay Its Return

Several airlines over the weekend announced further delays in restoring the grounded Boeing 737 MAX to their schedules, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that “friction” between the manufacturer and international air-safety authorities “threatens a new delay” in bringing the aircraft back into service.

“The latest complication in the long-running saga,” government and pilot union officials briefed on the matter tell the WSJ’s Andy Pasztor and Alison Sider, “stems from a Boeing briefing in August that was cut short by regulators from the U.S., Europe, Brazil and elsewhere, who complained that the plane maker had failed to provide technical details and answer specific questions about modifications in the operation of MAX flight-control computers.”

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In short, that means resubmitting paperwork, holding more meetings and conducting additional simulator and flight tests.  

“The upshot … is likely to be several more weeks of delay that could significantly reduce the likelihood that many of the planes would be back flying passengers in North America during the Christmas holidays, as Boeing and some U.S. carriers have publicly projected,” Pasztor and Sider write.  

“American Airlines announced Sunday it will extend cancellations of flights on the Boeing 737 Max through December 3,” Clare Duffy reports  for CNN Business.  “United Airlines took a similar step Friday, canceling 90 daily flights due to the 737 Max until December 19. Southwest, which has more 737 Max planes in its fleet than any other U.S. airline, has canceled about 180 daily flights through January 5.”

Reflecting its “prudent approach to scheduling,” Air Canada said in July that it would removing the Boeing 737 Max from its schedule until at least Jan. 8, 2020.

“The Max, Boeing’s best-selling jet, has been grounded worldwide since March 13 following two crashes within five months that killed 346 people,” Bloomberg’s Mary Schlangenstein and Richard Weiss remind us  in The Seattle Times.

For the airline industry in general, “the grounding of the fleet was less disruptive than it might have been because far more jets were in Boeing’s order backlog than in service,” Bloomberg’s Anurag Kotoky and Kyunghee Park write  for The Washington Post.

“In the U.S., for example, the Max makes up about 3% of the mainline fleet. But the impact has piled up and could especially hurt budget carriers. Ryanair Holdings Plc is scaling back growth plans for summer 2020 because, it says, it’s likely to get barely half of the 58 Max planes it was expecting. FlyDubai, which has idled 14 Max planes that have been delivered out of 251 ordered, according to Boeing, says it had to delay the Oct. 1 launch of flights to Budapest. American said it has been canceling about 115 flights a day, or about 1.5% of its daily summer schedule.

TUI AG, the world’s largest tourism service company, said a profit rebound was wiped out by the grounding of its 15 Max aircraft,” Kotoky and Park report. They also point out that Boeing’s suppliers could be hard hit “if the company follows through on warnings it might halt production.”

“Nobody is sure when the jets will be ready to fly again, and even when they are deemed ready to take to the skies, airlines aren’t sure how the traveling public will react,” observes  Mike Wehner for BGR

“There’s been plenty of discussion over how to position the 737s once they are cleared for flight, with some airlines considering renaming them in order to sanitize their image. Back in June, a poll of thousands of recent airline travelers suggested that roughly half of all fliers would actively avoid the planes in the future, and just 14% saying they would be happily willing to board a 737 Max,” Wehner adds.

Meanwhile, aircraft leasing company Avia Capital Services is suing Boeing, claiming the 737 Max planes “now have ‘no value’ because of their safety record and fears among passengers," a lawyer representing the company tells  Business Insider’s Sinéad Baker.

Attorney Steven Marks says that Avia “no longer wants to take delivery of its order of 737 Max jets, thanks to flaws uncovered in Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority’s testing of the plane, and passenger mistrust of the jet,” Baker reports.

“The public doesn't have any trust in it, the client can’t use it. It has no value to them,” says Marks.

Responding to The Wall Street Journal report, a Boeing spokesman said: “Our best current estimate continues to be a return to service of the MAX that begins early in the fourth quarter…. Our focus is on safety and ensuring the trust and confidence of customers, regulators and the flying public.”

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