Southwest Airlines extends 737 Max flight ban through March – as it is revealed the plane’s return was delayed because of a near-crash in a simulator in June
- Southwest said on Friday that it will extend 737 Max ban through March 2020
- Airline with largest 737 Max fleet had previously pulled flights through February
- Meanwhile new details emerge about delays in returning the plane to service
- A simulated computer glitch caused it to to dive aggressively in June test
- Similar issue is believed to be behind two fatal crashes that killed 346 people
Southwest Airlines has extended cancellations of flights on Boeing’s 737 Max through March 2020, in the latest setback for the troubled plane since two crashes that killed 346 people.
Southwest, the largest operator of the 737 Max 8 jets, said on Friday it is now canceling flights through March 6 because of ‘continued uncertainty around the timing of Max return to service’ and added it is ‘unable to provide an update on first quarter capacity guidance at this time.’
Last month, Southwest had extended the grounding of all 34 737 Max jets in its fleet to February 8.
United Airlines and American Airlines have canceled their 737 Max flights into January.
A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California in a file photo
Meanwhile, shocking new details have emerged about the source of the delays in returning the Max to service.
In June, Boeing engineers were nearly done completing software updates when two pilots tested the fixes in a flight simulator, according to Bloomberg.
A simulated computer glitch an aggressive dive in a way that resembled the problem that had caused deadly crashes off Indonesia and in Ethiopia months earlier.
That led to an extensive redesign of the plane’s flight computers that has dragged on for months and repeatedly pushed back the date of its return to service, according to people briefed on the work.
Boeing says it is in the final stages of making fixes to the Max, which has been grounded for eight months.
The CEO of American Airlines, a major Boeing customer, said he is growing more confident that the Max will soon be approved to fly again.
Regulators began reviewing Boeing’s technical documentation within the last week, and the audit has not been completed.
The review involves specifications for software to use a second flight-control computer, not just one, on all flights.
Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the MCAS documentation was presented in a format used in the past, but regulators want it in a different form, and the company is doing that.
He said the company is continuing to work with FAA and other regulators while the audit is being conducted.
‘It’s too early to speculate on how this might affect the schedule’ for returning the Max to service, Johndroe said.
The delays have thrown into question when Boeing can complete a certification test flight.
The Federal Aviation Administration has said it would not unground the planes until 30 days after that flight occurs.
Two U.S. officials told Reuters it is extremely unlikely — if not impossible — that Boeing will be able to win approval to return flights to service before the end of December.