While it is likely to take some years before things for Being 737 MAX would return to “business as usual” mode, a pathway on how this would happen is getting clearer. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has revealed the remaining process before the airplane gets recertified, while Boeing’s CFO shared details on how the manufacturer plans to wake up the currently grounded planes once it gets the green light to do so.

What happens once 737 MAX grounding is lifted?

Boeing has over 400 parked airplanes at its own facilities, approximately the same amount of aircraft grounded in clients’ fleets, and three 737 MAX production lines that have been stopped.

The certification flight of Boeing 737 MAX is the next big milestone the company is looking forward to, Greg Smith, Boeing’s chief financial officer, has reiterated during Cowen and Company's 41st Annual Aerospace/Defense & Industrials Conference on February 12, 2020. Once it obtains the certification for the 737 MAX, the company’s priority Nr.1 would be helping customers’ to get their grounded fleet back into the air.

The second priority, according to Smith, would be delivering the airplanes that are currently parked at Boeing, while bringing up the production system. The manufacturer shut down the three 737 MAX production lines in January 2020 and they now remain empty.

The U.S. plane maker finished all ongoing aircraft assembly works before closing the lines. So now, to start “waking them up” Boeing would bring the resources to the first position and then gradually bring the lines back up “in a very smooth, methodical fashion”, before starting to work on the production rate.

In fact, Boeing plans to start “waking up” the production lines slightly before the 737 MAX is cleared to return to service - or as soon as the company gains confidence in the timeframe of ungrounding, in Smith’s words.

“We have airplanes sitting up on the ramp; we have to get those delivered. We have got our factory, our supply chain, and then ultimately customers’ ability to take the airplanes,” said Smith. “And then, of course, we have got the added element in that delivery with the FAA being involved in every delivery of every MAX airplane that we assume will continue. We are provisioning for that as well.”

Meanwhile, the grounded aircraft are not actually rusting. Smith said that the company is flying 737 MAXs “almost every day”. Boeing is moving its own aircraft around from different sites as well as helping customers to move their airplanes and repositioning them.

The information gathered during these shuffles would help Boeing to bring the airplanes out of preservation and return them to service. Yet it is not only Boeing’s capabilities that will determine the sequencing and quantities of the aircraft. “It will be airplane by airplane, one by one, each customer making decisions day to day and resequencing those deliveries,” said Smith.

So when will Boeing 737 MAX production rate reach its previously targeted heights of 57 airplanes per month? According to the company’s CFO, that would take at least a couple of years.

Next major milestone for Boeing 737 MAX

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Steve Dickson revealed that the next major milestone for the Boeing 737 MAX, the certification flight, could take place in the coming weeks, after a few remaining issues are resolved.  “The certification flight is the next major milestone and once completed, I think we will have a little more clarity on the rest of the process,” said Dickson during Singapore Airshow.

The following steps after the certification, that are likely to take up no less than a month to complete, would involve the FAA looking at and evaluating Boeing’s pilot training proposal, preparing a report and awaiting public comments on it.

Later on, the authority would prepare final design documentation and airworthiness directive for operators, which would outline safety actions needed. It is after these steps Boeing can expect to see the grounding lifted.

Boeing is already preparing for the flight to be carried out by the FAA pilots. Since February 7, 2020, a Boeing 737 MAX 7 has been seen hopping on and off in several U.S. airports as a testbed for the MCAS software.