Relief for Boeing’s embattled management arrived as orders came in for more than 40 of the 737 MAX jets at the Dubai airshow this week, despite the airliner’s not having been returned to service. Kazakh carrier Air Astana ordered 30 MAX 8s after Turkish airline SunExpress placed an order for 10, and there are reports of as-yet-`unannounced sales for an additional 20 MAX variants.
While the new orders represent a small percentage of the 5300 outstanding orders for the MAX, it’s a glimmer of confidence in the marketplace for Boeing, which has been producing but not delivering the airliner since it was grounded this March. Boeing reduced the MAX’s production rate soon after the grounding but has continued to complete 42 of the airliners per month. The consensus opinion is that the MAX will be cleared to resume flying in January.
Meanwhile, the board of Southwest Airlines, which has ordered 280 of the 737 MAX models, will be briefed by Boeing this week on more detailed return-to-service logistics for the grounded jet. “It’s an overview of the Return to Service Plan, timing, and plans moving forward,” Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz told Reuters. “Just a good chance for our Board to hear directly from Boeing, but nothing more to it than that.” In addition to the 34 MAX jets already it has already accepted, Southwest was supposed to get an additional 41 this year. Those deliveries are slated to take place early next year.
For its part, Boeing says it has completed the first of five key steps toward clearing the MAX for service. It has finished its simulator sessions, but still has to finish its Line Pilots Crew Workload Evaluation, which is a “separate, multi-day simulator session with airline pilots to assess human factors and crew workload under various test conditions.” Then comes the FAA certification flight test, final submittal to the FAA and, finally, the Joint Operational Evaluation Board simulator training evaluation.
Worldwide, there are 385 aircraft that had been in service in addition to the more than 300 that have been built while the design has been grounded. Over the weekend, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson reminded FAA employees to ignore external pressures to get the airliner flying again and stated he would personally sign off on the MAX’s airworthiness. After that, airlines could be looking at 100 hours of maintenance to prepare each grounded jet for service, and each will have to undergo a flight test before carrying passengers.