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Southwest pilots chief says 737 Max may not return until March

Southwest Airlines Co. is the largest operator of the 737 Max and had 34 of the aircraft in its fleet when it was grounded in March by air authorities worldwide.
Credit: AP
In this March 23, 2019 file photo a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max aircraft lands at the Southern California Logistics Airport in the high desert town of Victorville, Calif. Southwest is removing flights with the troubled Boeing 737 Max aircraft from its schedule through Aug. 5, a period that includes the peak of the airline's busy summer travel season. The company did not specify how many flights would be cancelled because of the new schedule. (AP Photo/Matt Hartman, File)

The 737 Max may not return to revenue service until February or even March of next year, the Southwest Airlines pilots union president said Monday.

That return date is significantly beyond the company’s current expectations that the Max would return to service Jan. 5, 2020.

Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said by the time Boeing Co. finalizes its software fixes, testing occurs in the actual plane, and the company and the pilots unions sign off on fixes, the Max’s return to revenue flying could be delayed well into the 2020 first quarter.

Plus, the Federal Aviation Administration might wait until other air authorities also sign off on the plane’s fixes so it can present a unified front to consumers, Weaks said. The U.S. Department of Transportation drew ire this spring when it was the last major air authority to ground the Max after it crashed for the second time in five months.

“They can fast track certain things because of the extraordinary circumstances,” Weaks told the Dallas Business Journal at an industry conference in Plano on Monday. “But there are so many entities and so many regulators that it’s just such a logistical ball of wax, I don’t know how much they’ll be able to streamline it.”

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Southwest Airlines Co. is the largest operator of the 737 Max and had 34 of the aircraft in its fleet when it was grounded in March by air authorities around the world. The Dallas-based airline has hundreds of more Max planes on order.

"There’s currently no MAX-related capacity in our flight schedule through January 5, 2020," said a Southwest spokesperson in a statement in response to Weaks' comments. "We continue our planning work as timelines, focusing on minimizing travel disruption and inconvenience for our Customers and Employees."

Chief Financial Officer Tammy Romo said earlier this month she expects the Max to be re-certified in November. Southwest leadership has previously said it’ll take between one and two months for the company to comply with all training necessary before the plane gets back in the sky carrying passengers.

The return of the Max, originally anticipated for this summer, has suffered delay after delay.

Southwest was the first airline, back in July, to take the Max off its schedule through the busy holiday travel season.

American Airlines and United Airlines are still holding out hope the Max returns before Christmas, as the two carriers have the Max off its schedule through early and mid December, respectively.

More 737 Max coverage from WFAA.com: 

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