United Airlines doesn't expect to fly the Boeing 737 Max this summer

Key Points
  • United Airlines doesn't expect the Boeing 737 Max planes to be ready to fly by this summer.
  • The summer is the busiest season for U.S. carriers and when their revenue peaks.
  • Boeing executives have been telling suppliers and customers that they don't expect regulators to approve the jets until midyear.
A United Airlines airplane takes off at Newark Liberty Airport.
Gary Hershorn | Getty Images

United Airlines on Wednesday said it does not expect that it will be able to fly the Boeing 737 Max this summer a day after the manufacturer pushed back when it expects regulators to sign off on the planes until midyear, more than six months later than it previously forecast.

The repeated delays mean airlines are set to go another summer — the peak travel season for U.S. carriers — without the fuel-efficient planes.

Regulators grounded the 737 Max last March after two fatal crashes — one in Indonesia in October 2018 and another in Ethiopia less than five months later — killed all 346 people aboard the flights.

The airline had already pushed back when it expects the planes to return to service until early June, but United President Scott Kirby, who is taking over as CEO in May, said on an earnings call that the airline is working on another schedule change. Southwest and American, which each report earnings Thursday, are likely to also adjust their schedules if delays continue.

The repeated delays have a snowball effect: As time goes on airlines not only lack access to the jets they had at the time of the grounding, but the additional planes they were set to receive. Boeing halted deliveries because of the grounding and suspended production this month.

Boeing executives have been calling 737 Max customers and has forecast that regulators will not approve the planes to return to commercial service until June or July.

Even with government approvals, the planes won't return to airlines' schedules the next day. Boeing has recommended pilots undergo simulator training, a reversal of its earlier stance, a process that could further delay when the Max returns. Airlines also have to take 737 Max planes out of storage and perform maintenance work on them.

Boeing has been scrambling to get regulators to recertify the planes, but several other issues were discovered during its updates, the company has said.

Boeing's new CEO, David Calhoun, is set to brief reporters on the Max and its efforts to get it flying again at 1 p.m. ET.

Boeing shares were down more than 1% in afternoon trading while United's were off 2.9%.

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