American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have once again postponed the return date for the Boeing 737 MAX. They now expect to see the aircraft take back to the skies in early March 2020.

After announcing in their third-quarter financial results that the return to service would likely not take place before February 8, 2019, Southwest told AeroTime the date would be postponed again, “based on continued uncertainty”. This time the date is set to March 6, 2020. “What is important, of course, is that we give the FAA the time that they need to do their job, which I know they will,” said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly in the latest financial report, adding that “of course we're here to support them every way that we can”.

American Airlines followed the same route. Last month, the carrier had set the date to January 16, 2020 at the earliest. On November 8, 2019, the day was reported to March 5, 2020. “Once the aircraft is certified, American expects to run exhibition flights or flights for American team members and invited guests only, prior to March 5,” American said in a press release. The decision was made in the light of “continuous contact with the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation and Boeing”.

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In the latest update, American Airlines provides a preliminary date for their MAX aircraft to return to service:
 

A few days earlier, Lori Bassani, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union representing American Airlines' flight attendants, had addressed a letter to Boeing CEO Denis Muilenburg on the second day of his Congress hearing. She reported the “deep concerns” felt by its members. “The 28,000 flight attendants working for American Airlines refuse to walk onto a plane that may not be safe and are calling for the highest possible safety standards to avoid another tragedy,” Bassani wrote in the letter.

Before the grounding that followed the two crashes that claimed the lives of 346 people, Southwest Airlines had 34 Boeing 737 MAX 8 operating out of 280 ordered, as well as thirty MAX 7 ordered. As for American Airlines, it had received 24 of the hundred MAX 8 it ordered.

Boeing still hopes to see its aircraft return to service by the end of 2020. However, the Federal Aviation Administration said it had no timeline on the return of the Boeing 737 MAX into service. “The agency will lift the grounding order only after we have determined the aircraft is safe,” it said in a statement, following the publication of the final report of the Lion Air crash.

The Technical Advisory Board that regroups several independent experts of aviation safety presented its preliminary report to the Federal Aviation Administration on November 8, 2019, in which it was deemed that the MCAS design changes were safe and compliant with the regulations.

However, earlier in the month media reports indicated that the FAA had found additional shortcomings in the documentation submitted by Boeing. It was not immediately clear whether the missing information would prolong the certification process. 

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As Boeing nears the end of the 737 MAX software update, the question remains whether aviation authorities will follow the FAA’s example in clearing the aircraft to fly again ‒ as it is a custom in the industry. The discussions and speculation on the topic has intensified in the last week, as global authorities gathered to the ICAO tri-annual assembly session on September 24, 2019. While media reports indicate that regulators authorities are starting to lean towards the customary method and might un-ground the aircraft if not at the same time as their U.S. counterpart, then shortly after, the FAA’s reputation faced another blow. And this time, the hit came from the home base.