American pushes back 737 Max return again: Passengers won't fly it until April at earliest
American Airlines said it is removing the 737 Max from its schedule into early April, a move that will impact travelers who already booked spring break trips and reduce flight options for those yet to book.
The airline's decision to delay the plane's return for another month, until April 7, comes as the FAA's recertification process for the grounded plane drags on. The Max has been grounded since March following two fatal crashes that killed 346 people in less than six months.
American and fellow U.S. Max operators Southwest and United have had to repeatedly pull the plane from their schedules as the grounding continues so it doesn't disrupt travelers' plans at the last minute as happened in the early weeks of the grounding.
American says it will proactively cancel about 140 daily flights with the latest schedule change on Dec. 22. Affected passengers will be rebooked or will have the option to cancel and receive a refund, even if it's a nonrefundable ticket.
American had 24 Max 8s when the planes were grounded but was supposed to have 40 by year's end, with more on the way in 2020, so the number of affected flights has grown throughout the year.
With the latest cancellations, American said it will have canceled nearly 46,000 fights due to the Max grounding.
Southwest and United still have the plane returning to commercial service in early March, but that could change following a Wednesday hearing where FAA Administrator Stephen Dicksonoutlined several hurdles that remain before the plane is certified to fly again. In his prepared remarks, he reiterated that the process is "not guided by a calendar or schedule.'' He said the FAA needs to determine that Boeing's proposed software fix and pilot training will address the issues that led to the grounding.
On Thursday, Dickson met with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg because he was concerned Boeing is pursuing an unrealistic return-to-service schedule, according to an email sent to the House and Senate oversight committees. Dickson was also concerned that some of Boeing's public statements on the plane's return were designed to force the FAA into taking quicker action, according to the email. Dickson told Muilenburg Boeing's focus should be on the "quality and timeliness of data'' submitted to the FAA for review ahead of any ungrounding, according to a recap sent to the committees.
Late Thursday, trade publication The Air Current reported that the FAA's ungrounding is expected to slip into at least mid-February, in part because of pilot confusion about revised procedures on the Max during recent tests. Airlines have said they need weeks after that date to fly the planes with paying passengers.
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