Airlines in the US are preparing to get their Boeing Co 737 MAXs ready for commercial flights after regulators lifted a 20-month grounding.
American Airlines Group Inc is poised to be the first carrier to bring back the MAX since the flying ban began in March last year.
The company on Wednesday said that it is planning to start operating the plane from Dec. 29 on services between Miami and New York, but took pains to say that passengers would not have to ride on Boeing’s best-selling jet if they do not want to.
“Our customers will be able to easily identify whether they are traveling on one even if schedules change,” American Airlines said in a message to employees. “If a customer prefers to not fly on this aircraft, we’ll provide flexibility to ensure they can be easily re-accommodated.”
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) set out detailed requirements that MAX operators must complete, including software changes to a system linked to two fatal crashes and maintenance procedures needed to bring the jets out of storage.
About 1,000 hours of work must be done on each MAX before it flies again, said United Airlines Holdings Inc, which anticipates carrying passengers on the aircraft in the first quarter of next year.
Still unknown is the reaction of the flying public to the return of a jetliner that is meant to become a workhorse of the global fleet, alongside Airbus SE’s A320neo family.
Two Boeing MAX crashes — one off Indonesia more than two years ago and another in Ethiopia early last year — between them killed 346 people and prompted the grounding.
American Airlines said that it would conduct non-revenue flights next month before returning the MAX to commercial service.
At Southwest Airlines Co, the largest MAX operator, chief executive officer Gary Kelly said that he and other company leaders would fly on the carrier’s MAX jets before any customers do.
Southwest is confident in Boeing’s fixes, Kelly said in a message to employees.
He also highlighted the need for “thousands of hours of work, inspections and the software updates before any of our customers board a Southwest 737 MAX.”
The Dallas, Texas-based carrier said that it would not carry commercial passengers on the planes until the second quarter of next year.
Southwest said it flew almost 40,000 MAX flights and more than 89,000 flight hours before the grounding.
Alaska Air Group Inc said that it would take delivery of its first MAX in January, a key consideration for Boeing as the planemaker seeks to unlock billions of dollars in cash by handing over about 450 jets built during the grounding.
Pilots at Alaska Air would get eight hours of simulator training, and the Seattle-based company would fly the MAX 36,000km and 50 hours before entering service in March.
“We have high expectations and confidence that Boeing has made the required changes and necessary improvements to the MAX,” the carrier said in an e-mail. “With these enhancements and the FAA’s thorough inspection processes, this aircraft will meet the high safety standards we expect.”
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