The aircraft may not return to service until the New Year, says Travel Weekly’s Ian Taylor

The Boeing 737 Max may not return to service until the New Year as a list of issues requiring resolution continues to grow following two fatal crashes.

Boeing revealed last week that it had taken a $4.9 billion hit on the aircraft in the three months to June.

It reported a quarterly loss of $2.94 billion – a $5-billion-plus reversal on the same period in 2018. But that is just the start.

The US aircraft maker noted it may have to halt production of the Max if the aircraft remains grounded, as looks increasingly likely.

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Leisure travel group Tui put the cost of the grounding at £3 billion a month per aircraft in its most recent update, so we can do the maths.

Based on this figure, a leading aviation analyst calculated the collective cost to carriers would run to £16 billion if the Max returns to flying by December.

He expressed doubt the aircraft would be back in service by then and told Travel Weekly: “The airlines will want the money.”

Boeing’s figure of $4.9 billion for April to June is a little lower but would still take the bill close to $15 billion. However, it excludes the cost of an increasing number of missed deliveries over the second half of the year.

Anti-stall malfunction

The 737 Max was grounded in March after the second of the two crashes in which 346 passengers and crew died.

An Ethiopian Airlines aircraft went down on March 10 soon after take-off from Addis Ababa less than five months after a Lion Air 737 Max crashed in similar circumstances after take-off from Jakarta.

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Both crashes were attributed in part to the malfunction of an automated anti-stall system which appeared to lack adequate warning lights and about which pilots appeared not fully informed.

Ryanair announced last week that it would prune plans to increase capacity for summer 2020 because of the delay in Max deliveries.

Chief executive Michael O’Leary noted Boeing’s hope for a return to service soon after the manufacturer submits a Max recertification package to regulators in September but declared it “prudent to plan for that date to slip by some months”.

Boeing stuck to a somewhat vague September timetable this week. Chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said the “final certification package” would be submitted to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) “somewhere in the September timeframe”.

That seems fanciful and other airlines clearly agree with O’Leary. American Airlines confirmed the cancellation of its Max services up to November last week.

This week, Southwest Airlines announced it had removed the Max from its schedules until January.

‘Regulators keep finding new problems’

US carriers are looking to the FAA to signal the Max’s return. But it is not just down to the US regulator.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has issued Boeing with a list of issues it wants resolved before it allows the aircraft back into the skies above Europe.

These relate not just to the anti-stall system on the aircraft. They include a flaw in the flight control system, concerns about the way the autopilot engages, difficulties pilots have encountered in using an emergency manual crank to change the aircraft’s nose angle and a flaw in the 737 Max flight simulator.

EASA also wants changes to crew procedures on the aircraft.

Bear in mind that Boeing has been working on the software update for the anti-stall system since late last year and had previously said it would have all the paperwork for a fix to the FAA by March.

Saudi Arabian airline Flyadeal became the first carrier to cancel an order for the 737 Max this month – switching a $5.9 billion order for up to 50 aircraft announced last December to Airbus.

Meantime, the New York Times reported: “Boeing and regulators keep finding new problems with the model.” The newspaper suggested: “It could be 2020 before the Max flies again.”

News agency Bloomberg agreed, reporting: “Regulators view a 2020 return as more realistic.”

Just about the only good news for Boeing and Max airline customers this week was the announcement that the US Senate had confirmed the appointment of a new head of the FAA.

The US regulator has had an acting administrator since January 2018. Ex-Delta Air Lines executive Stephen Dickson was confirmed in the post on Wednesday.

US airlines body Airlines for America welcomed the appointment, hailing Dickson as “uniquely qualified to lead the FAA”.

US pilots appeared less enamoured and Democratic senators opposed Dickson’s confirmation citing a lawsuit filed by a Delta pilot which alleges Dickson – former Delta vice president for flight operations – was involved in an attempted victimisation of a pilot who reported safety concerns.

The FAA could therefore be under scrutiny while the costs keep mounting for Boeing. The end most definitely does not appear in sight on the 737 Max.

More: Boeing 737 Max ‘could be grounded until new year’

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