American Airlines Joins Southwest In Abandoning Hope 737 MAX Will Fly Again This Year

Even as Boeing still tells anyone who will listen that it is confident the infamous 737 MAX plane will fly again this year, its biggest clients are giving up hope, and earlier today American Airlines abandoned expectations it would resume flights with the Boeing Co. 737 Max this year, pulling the troubled plane from the carrier’s schedule beyond the end of 2019, at least through January 15, 2020.

As Bloomberg notes, the world's largest airline, which previously removed the aircraft through Dec. 3, is canceling 140 flights per day as its two dozen Max jets remain grounded indefinitely. With its announcement that it won't fly a 737MAX until 2020 at the earliest, American follows Southwest Airlines which in July said that it wouldn’t fly the plane before Jan. 6. Southwest is the largest Max operator, with 34.

United Airlines remains the major outlier, and still has the Max set to return to its schedule on Dec. 19, while Air Canada has removed the plane until Jan. 8.

The narrow-body aircraft was grounded by authorities worldwide in March after crashes at Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines killed 346 people. Boeing has targeted this quarter for the plane’s return, but the new software and other changes meant to avoid a repeat of the disastrous malfunctions first must be approved by regulators.

Once flights are allowed to resume, it is unclear what happens next: while carriers will need weeks or even months to train pilots and prepare stored aircraft for service, it still remains unclear if the general public will be willing to fly in a plane which we have now learned was manufactured with the explicit goal of minimizing cost even at the expense of passenger safety.

American said it expects to phase in the Max slowly and will increase flights throughout January and into February. In July, the company forecast a $400 million drag on this year’s pretax earnings from the Max’s grounding; the final number will likely be far greater.