On January 21, 2020, Boeing announced that the manufacturer now expects the 737 MAX to return to service in mid-2020, indicating that the type will be sat on the ground for almost one and a half years since its second fatal accident in Ethiopia in March 2019. The announcement indicates a very distinct change of tone from what was previously visible when the company was guided by the now-ousted Chief Executive, Dennis Muilenburg.

The press release begins with the words that “the FAA and other global regulators will determine when the 737 MAX returns to service.” On a previous update on 737 MAX operations dated November 11, 2019, the statement begins with “Boeing’s priority remains the safe return to service of the MAX and supporting our airline customers through this challenging time,” indicating a slight yet visible change in tone.

“However, in order to help our customers and suppliers plan their operations, we periodically provide them with our best estimate of when regulators will begin to authorize the ungrounding of the 737 MAX,” Boeing latest update on the 737 MAX return-to-service schedule reads.

When Boeing presented its Q3 financial results in October 2019, the company estimated that the un-grounding procedures would begin in the following quarter and that customers would be able to fly the newest generation of the 737 in early-2020. Yet that estimate pushed a few buttons within the industry, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its Administrator, Stephen Dickson.

In a public statement in November 2019, Dickson said that he supported the FAA’s employees and their careful scrutiny of the 737 MAX, reiterating that they could take the time needed to conduct a thorough, deliberate process for a safe return to service.

“Now I know there is a lot of pressure to return this aircraft to service quickly, but I want you to know that I want you to take the time that you need and focus solely on safety.”

“I have got your back.”

And it was not the first time that Dickson had to tell Boeing and it’s former executive to ease on the gas pedal.

A rocky December

On December 12, 2019, Dickson met with Muilenburg to discuss matters regarding the 737 MAX, just a day after Dickson sat in front of lawmakers from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, denying that the relationship between the FAA and Boeing was “cozy.”

Reportedly, Dickson rebuffed Muilenburg and later expressed concern that the manufacturer’s public statements regarding the return-to-service date “have been designed to force FAA into taking quicker action.” He also advised the then-CEO of the manufacturer that Boeing should focus “on the quality and timeliness of data submittals for FAA review.”

Less than two weeks later, on December 23, 2019, Muilenburg was told to pack his bags and leave the company with immediate effect, as the road towards the recertification of the 737 MAX only got darker, rather than Boeing seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Upon his exit, Muilenburg received around $80 million of pension and compensation benefits.

On January 13, 2020, David L. Calhoun is starting his role as the president and chief executive officer of the Boeing company. Calhoun is replacing the company’s previous head Dennis Muilenburg, who is believed to have lost the role due to the 737 MAX crisis.

As David L. Calhoun took the Composite Throne on January 13, 2020, the reality he faced was quite grim: with new potential flaws on the 737 MAX, the recertification timeline kept slipping.