American Airlines has taken the grounded Boeing 737 Max out of its schedule until 5 March 2020. The announcement comes following Southwest Airlines' statement earlier in the day that it too would delay scheduling the aircraft until early March.
The Dallas-based carrier had previously said that it expected the aircraft to return to service in January. It now anticipates cancelling "approximately 140 flights" per day through 4 March.
The new March date is also just days short of the anniversary of the second of two 737 Max crashes which left the aircraft type grounded worldwide. The plane's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) automated flight controls were linked to the fatal crashes of Indonesia's Lion Air 610 on 29 October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines 302 on 10 March 2019.
“American Airlines remains in continuous contact with the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation and Boeing,” the airline says in a statement published on its website on 8 November. “Based on the latest guidance, American anticipates that the resumption of scheduled commercial service on American's fleet of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft will occur March 5, 2020. Once the aircraft is certified, American expects to run exhibition flights, or flights for American team members and invited guests only, prior to March 5.”
American adds that once the aircraft is cleared to fly again, it expects to slowly introduce it back into the schedule. “Since American will gradually phase the MAX into our operation over the course of a month, additional refinements to our schedule may occur."
In October, Boeing said it anticipates regulators will approve the Max's certification before year-end, though the FAA has steadfastly refused to disclose a timeline or a possible date the aircraft could return to service. The FAA declines to comment on American’s announcement on Friday, adding that its stance has not changed.
“The FAA is following a thorough process for returning the Boeing 737 MAX to passenger service,” FAA spokeswoman Lynn Lunsford says in a statement. “We continue to work with other international aviation safety regulators to review the proposed changes to the aircraft. Our first priority is safety, and we have set no timeframe for when the work will be completed.”
American currently has 24 Max aircraft in storage and a further 76 on order, Cirium fleet data show.