Chicago / Washington:
American Airlines Group Inc and United Airlines Holdings Inc postpone the return of Boeing 737 MAX flights until August and September, respectively. This is a new delay after sources told Reuters that an important certification flight may not be before April at least.
American canceled 737 MAX flights by August 18 and United by September 4, the two said on Friday in separate statements.
The other US 737 MAX operator, Southwest Airlines Co.
The new schedules mean that the three airlines will fly without the 737 MAX for the second summer in a row, an issue that weighed on profits during the peak season of last year.
The Boeing 737 MAX was discontinued worldwide in March last year after two accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people within five months.
The U.S. aircraft manufacturer has spent months updating software that is believed to have played a role in both crashes, but new problems have emerged that hamper regulatory efforts to re-approve the aircraft.
The time of a certification flight, an important step in the approval process, has been repeatedly postponed. The last unofficial guide was that the flight is scheduled to take place this month, but is now unlikely to take place while Boeing is trying to solve the new problems, sources said this week.
American, Southwest and United had planned to get the planes back in the air in early June when regulators approved the plane in the first quarter, but this is now increasingly unlikely.
A key problem yet to be resolved is whether Boeing needs to disconnect two bundles of cables that may be too close together, which can lead to a short circuit and crash if the pilots do not respond appropriately. Boeing said on Friday it was still in talks with the Federal Aviation Administration about the problem.
Meanwhile airlines including Delta Air Lines
Once regulators approve Boeing's corrections, airlines will need at least 30 days to prepare their fleets and pilots before using the aircraft for commercial flight.
The longer the 737 MAX is grounded, the more Boeing ultimately has to compensate its customers.
Boeing spent $ 1.4 billion (163; 1.1 billion) on compensation for 737 MAX customers last year, and CFO Greg Smith said the company anticipates "a good deal" of additional billing this week this year.