United Airlines extends 737 Max cancellations through August - GulfToday

United Airlines extends 737 Max cancellations through August

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United Airlines planes are pictured at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, US. Reuters

United Airlines is canceling more than 2,400 flights during the busy summer travel season as Boeing’s 737 Max jets remain grounded. Chicago-based United Airlines had already pulled flights on the 737 Max from its schedule through early July, but it is now extending cancellations through Aug.3, the airline said. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines had already cancelled flights through August.

The 737 Max jets have been grounded by aviation authorities around the world since March, after the second in a pair of deadly crashes involving the aircraft in less than five months. The crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed a total of 346 people.

Boeing said it has completed a software fix for a flight control system linked to both crashes. Aviation safety officials met on Thursday to discuss Boeing’s changes and plans for reviewing their safety before clearing the grounded jets to fly again. But it’s not clear how long that process will take.

In the meantime, United said it expects to cancel 35 to 40 flights a day in June and 40 to 45 flights per day in July. United said it would automatically book customers affected by the cancellations on another flight or contact them to try to offer other options if it wasn’t able to find them a seat.

United said it will continue to monitor the regulatory process and “won’t put our customers and employees on that plane until regulators make their own independent assessment that it is safe to do so.”

Earlier this week, United CEO Oscar Munoz said that while airlines want the 737 Max back in service, especially as summer travel picks up, ensuring a safe process has to come first. “Pushing for a timeline, while it’s important, it’s not the critical thing,” he said.

Meanwhile the Airlines are eager to restore 737 MAX flights after regulators’ approval. Once global regulators clear Boeing Co’s 737 MAX to fly again after deadly crashes, airlines, which have put their fleets into mechanical hibernation since March will scramble to begin the biggest ungrounding effort in history.

Quickly reintegrating Boeing’s 737 MAX, a fast-selling model because of its fuel efficiency, longer range, and passenger capacity, is crucial for optimizing airlines’ routes and improving margins after having to cancel thousands of flights.

Global airlines have warned of a major hit to profits due to the mid-March grounding of the MAX following two fatal crashes.

International regulators are meeting on May 23 to review Boeing software and training plans, though doubts remain over how quickly foreign authorities will clear new flights.

In the United States, following regulatory approval of a Boeing software fix and new training, airlines will have to run through an FAA-approved checklist, industry officials say.

Such work, which will vary by operator, includes cycling the engines, changing and filling fluids, removing covers from the engines and running routine electrical and hydraulics checks.

Each airline will also have to upload Boeing’s new software for an anti-stall system implicated in the crashes and complete additional pilot training. Jason Goldberg, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, said it will take about a week to prepare American Airline Group’s MAX fleet to fly, not counting the extra training.

“While the planes are in storage there is of course maintenance that can be done. But as far as steps to put it back into service, none of the work is going to be done until the aircraft is cleared to fly.”

Airlines likely halted standard daily systems checks while the planes were in storage, said one former Boeing test pilot. Similar to a modern car, when mechanics restore power to the aircraft, built-in testing equipment runs checks on sensors gauging the health of aircraft systems from hydraulics and to fuel - known as a ‘BITE’ test - that would signal failures.

Another issue is pilot training. Boeing said on Thursday it was in the process of submitting a plan on pilot training to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for approval, after which each airline will develop its own FAA-approved training programme.

Southwest Airlines Co, the world’s largest MAX operator, has agreed a 30-day window with its 10,000 pilots to implement new MAX training, said Mike Trevino, spokesman for Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.

“If it’s computer-based training, that won’t be difficult to deploy. The pilots can do it at home,” he said.

A draft report by an FAA-appointed board of pilots, engineers and other experts concluded that pilots only need additional computer-based training, rather than simulator time, though other regulators and some pilot groups have argued for more.

Southwest is expected to upload the new software at a facility in the California desert where its 34 MAX jets are parked, while American Airlines is expected to install the software at its Tulsa, Oklahoma maintenance facility.

Agencies