U.S. Airlines to Prepare Boeing Max for First Flights Since 2019

U.S. airlines are preparing to get the Boeing Co. 737 Max ready for commercial flights after regulators lifted a 20-month grounding.

American Airlines Group Inc. is poised to be the first carrier to bring back the Max since the flying ban began in March 2019. The company confirmed Wednesday that it’s planning tostart operating the plane Dec. 29 on service between Miami and New York, but took pains to say that passengers won’t have to ride on Boeing’s best-selling jet if they don’t want to.

“Our customers will be able to easily identify whether they are traveling on one even if schedules change,” American said in a message to employees. “If a customer prefers to not fly on this aircraft, we’ll provide flexibility to ensure they can be easily re-accommodated.”

The Federal Aviation Administration set out detailedrequirements that Max operators must complete, including softwarechanges to a system linked to two fatal crashes and maintenance procedures needed to bring the jets out of storage. About 1,000 hours of work must be done on each Max before it flies again, saidUnited Airlines Holdings Inc., which anticipates carrying passengers on the aircraft in the first quarter of 2021.

Still unknown is the reaction of the flying public to the return of a jetliner that’s meant to become a workhorse of the global fleet, alongsideAirbus SE’s A320neo family. Two Boeing Max crashes — one off the coast of Indonesia more than two years ago and another in Ethiopia early last year — killed 346 people and prompted the grounding.

American said it would conduct nonrevenue flights next month before returning the Max to commercial service. AtSouthwest Airlines Co., the largest Max operator, Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said he and other company leaders would fly on the carrier’s Max jets before any customers do.

Southwest is confident in Boeing’s fixes, Kelly said in amessage to employees. He also highlighted the need for “thousands of hours of work, inspections, and the software updates before any of our customers board a Southwest 737 Max.”

The Dallas-based carrier won’t carry commercial passengers on the plane until the second quarter of next year. Southwest said it flew almost 40,000 Max flights and more than 89,000 flight hours before the grounding.

Alaska Air Group Inc. said it would take delivery of its first Max in January, a key consideration for Boeing as the planemaker seeks to unlock billions of dollars in cash by handing over about 450 jets built during the grounding.

Pilots at Alaska Air will get eight hours of simulator training, and the Seattle-based company will fly the Max 19,000 miles and 50 hours before entering service in March.

“We have high expectations and confidence that Boeing has made the required changes and necessary improvements to the Max,” the carrier said in an email. “With these enhancements and the FAA’s thorough inspection processes, this aircraft will meet the high safety standards we expect. ”

— With assistance by Mary Schlangenstein, Justin Bachman, Alan Levin, and Julie Johnsson

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