737MAX: the road to return to service

Boeing has been heavily chastised by the FAA for its pressure tactics, trying to get government and airlines to work on the FAA to get the airliner back in the air.

It hasn’t worked and yesterday’s decision to stop production for what will probably be a minimum of three months and could be as many as six, is seen as a sensible if difficult move.

There are around 384 delivered aircraft and another 470 undelivered sitting around that will need to be “fixed and certified”.

If the FAA approves the MAX by the end of February – and that’s the sort of time frame most airlines are expecting and the FAA have indicated, Boeing has the ability to fix 70 a month according to analysts who’ve looked at Boeing’s capacity.

So given that it will take another month for the pilot training and reintegration and certification by airlines and the FAA, it’s a two month process per aircraft, suggesting the first 70 will only be airborne by the middle to end of April.

So by the end of September, in theory all of the delivered aircraft will be back in the sky.

From mid-September Boeing can work on the 470 parked up its already built but not delivered. That puts them at February-March 2021 before they clear the backlog.

Of course once the FAA recertification is granted, production could recommence and those aircraft would be ready to deliver on completion.

However, it could take EASA another month to make its approvals and the Chinese, Indian, and other authorities are making it clear they will take as long as they feel it needs. That could mean Boeing shuffling about which aircraft get worked on first.

More complex is that separate agencies around the world may take more time than others, preventing over flights from one approved country over an unapproved one. This is most likely in SE Asia and has already been flagged by Singapore and Malaysia, who both get LionAir services from Indonesia.

While some airlines are chaffing at their losses from not having the MAX in service, some European airlines are quietly grateful.

Europe’s over capacity is staggering, a minor recession is on the cards, and new aircraft have to be paid for and made to work profitably – holding them off isn’t the end of the world. Airlines like Norwegian are hardly demanding instant delivery.

The facts are that this whole saga will have lasted somewhere in the region of two years by the time the last aircraft get airborne.

It’s a lesson that Boeing should learn from and Airbus would be wise to remind itself of the consequences when things go badly wrong.