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737 Max grounding prompts Southwest to cease Newark service

Southwest Airlines will end service at Newark Liberty International airport on 3 November in response to constraints created by the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max, the airline says on 25 July.

Southwest will consolidate its New York operations at LaGuardia airport. The airline has also removed the 737 Max from its schedules for another two months, to 5 January 2020.

Southwest says the Max grounding will cause its 2019 capacity to decline 1-2% year-on-year. The airline had hoped to grow capacity nearly 5% this year.

"As such, we are taking necessary steps to mitigate damages and optimise our aircraft and resources," chief executive Gary Kelly says in a media release. "We will cease operations at Newark Liberty International airport and consolidate our New York City presence at New York LaGuardia Airport, effective November 3, 2019."

"The financial results at Newark have been below expectations, despite the efforts of our excellent team at Newark," Kelly adds.

The airline will give Newark employees the option to transfer to other locations. The Max grounding reduced Southwest's second quarter operating income by $175 million. Southwest earned a net second quarter profit of $741 million, up about 1% year-on-year.

The decision to remove the 737 Max from schedules through 5 January follows "our most-recent guidance from Boeing", Southwest says.

"We currently are assuming regulatory approval of Max return-to-service during the fourth quarter 2019. With this in mind, we will proactively extend the Max-related flight schedule adjustments through January 5," Southwest says.

The change will help the airline ensure it runs a reliable operation during the busy end-of-year holiday travel season, it says. But Southwest adds it may need more time to comply with regulations put in place as part of the Max's regulatory clearance.

"Following a rescission of the Federal Aviation Administration order to ground the Max, we estimate it will take us one to two months to comply with prospective FAA directives, including all necessary pilot training," Southwest says. "The FAA will determine the timing of Max return to service, and we offer no assurances that our current assumptions and timelines are correct."

Southwest and other airlines have pushed back the Max's scheduled return several times. Earlier this month Southwest removed the aircraft through 2 November.

Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said on 24 July that Boeing is working under the assumption that it will conduct a 737 Max test flight and submit test data to regulators in September.

The airframer expects regulators will need several weeks to review test data and that they will lift the grounding early in the fourth quarter. However, Muilenburg cautions Boeing's timeline remains only an estimate. Regulators grounded the 737 Max in March.

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