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United to seek compensation for 737 Max grounding

United Airlines will seek some form of compensation from Boeing for the impact of the 737 Max grounding, says chief executive Oscar Munoz.

"There will be recompense of some sort over time," he says at New York's LaGuardia airport today. "The discussion of that is a bit early. Let's get that aircraft back to flight safely."

Chicago-based United has not specified the financial impact of the grounding, which took effect in March and affected United's 14 in-service 737 Max 9s. The grounding forced United to cancel flights starting in April, and the company recently extended Max-related cancellations until 3 August. It has reduced capacity growth by a percentage point, to up 4-5%, in 2019.

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The cumulative cancellations will impact roughly 3,440 United flights from April through July – around 0.5% of its global schedule during the period.

Munoz's comments come one day after Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said the airframer would "address" the impact of the grounding on Max customers. Potential remedies include "services and training support" as well as cash payments, he said.

Boeing has completed testing a software update to the 737 Max's manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS), which investigators have implicated as a factor in both the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air 737 Max crashes. Global regulators will begin evaluating the update shortly but none have said when they expect to allow 737 Max back in the sky.

When the Max does return to service, regaining passenger confidence will be critical. Munoz acknowledges this, saying earlier this month he will lead by example, flying aboard United's first 737 Max flight following re-certification.

"It's important to recognise that the flying public is going to have a perception," he says today. "Whatever it takes for us to get the public to see it as safe is going to be important."

Munoz does not elaborate on what United could offer passengers to regain trust in the Max.

Southwest Airlines, the largest US operator of the aircraft with 34 737 Max 8s when the type was suspended, recently acknowledged a crisis of confidence by replacing joint 737-800/Max 8 safety cards with cards that do not mention the 737 Max.

The Dallas-based carrier has said the grounding and other factors reduced its net profit by $150 million in the first quarter. It has removed the Max from schedules through 5 August.

Munoz says the Max situation does not impact United's interest in the 737 Max 10, for which it is launch customer, or Boeing's proposed new mid-market airplane, which could fly around 2025 if approved by Boeing.

"We've always said we thought the [Max] was safe in the hands of our pilots," he says. "I trust my pilots implicitly – period, end of sentence – in the way they've been trained."

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