Former airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who safely landed a crippled jetliner on the Hudson River ten years ago, told a House aviation panel that the two recent air disasters of the Boeing 737 Max “should never have happened.” (June 19)
As attempts to fix the Boeing 737 Max drag on, airlines are increasingly facing the prospect that they will have to do without the fuel-efficient jetliner during the especially-busy holiday season.
With the latest delays, the troubled jet that was grounded after two deadly international crashes may not return to the skies until next year.
United Airlines said Friday that it’s going to keep the 737 Max off its flight schedules until Nov. 2, pushing back its previous date by two months. American, in a statement expressing confidence in proposed fixes for the plane, followed suit on Sunday. For now, Southwest Airlines, another big 737 Max operator, is sticking to Oct. 1, which it announced last month.
As much as airlines will miss the planes and the profits they can deliver, safety considerations come first.
“The stakes are too high to get this one wrong,” said Larry Rooney, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations and himself a pilot. “We want to ensure when this plane returns to the skies we have vetted a lot of the issues that contributed to these two tragedies.”
Boeing, for its part, won’t predict when the 737 Max will fly again.
After the crash of a 737 Max operated by Ethiopian Airlines in March, the hope was that the airliner’s troubles could be remedied and certified and it would be flying again by summer. That crash, outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, followed a Lion Air 737 Max in the Java Sea last October.
Together, the two crashes killed 346 passengers and crew.
In both crashes, pilots had to fight to keep their planes’ noses up as a new automated system repeatedly tried to overcome their efforts and point it down, eventually dooming both. Boeing has proposed software changes designed to prevent a reoccurrence and says it is trying to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration requirements. Besides the plane’s initial problems, the FAA has asked for additional software improvements, which could further slow the process.
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In addition, the changes to the 737 Max will need to be approved by international air regulators.
So far, the delays have taken the plane out of service during the busy summer season. But delays through the year-end holiday period, when planes are full and airfare is high, could further hurt airlines financially.
Airlines that were counting on the 737 Max to play a bigger role in their fleets may have to scrounge for additional aircraft.
Those that stuck to their retirement schedule on older planes or types going out of service may not regret it, said Robert Mann of R.W. Mann and Co., an airline industry consultant.
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To fill the gap, he said he expects airlines try to squeeze more hours of use each day out of their existing fleets and swap in other types of planes on certain routes where they can. But the substitutions will still fall short of planners’ hopes for near-perfect matchups between plane types and passenger demand.
“Added utilization during the business day cannot completely replace missing aircraft, in that airlines cannot operate the optimal number of frequencies during peak periods, peak days, and peak hours,” Mann said.
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