No Timeline For Boeing 737-9 Return

Daniel Fowkes
10 Jan 2024
· Aircraft 
· Uncategorized 
There's no timeline for the return to service of grounded Boeing 737-9s as the FAA takes its time to re-approve the aircraft.

The Boeing 737 9 remains grounded with several customers, and following new statements, it would appear a timeline for its return is not present.

No Timeline For Return

Following an updated statement from the Federal Aviation Administration, there’s no timeline for the return to service of the current grounded Boeing 737-9s.

Initially, customers globally believed they’d be able to see the series re-enter service only a matter of days after the initial groundings would take place. However, per the latest guidance, it’s become a waiting game for when further instructions can be presented.

As a result, there’s a lack of clarity over when the 737-9s that remain parked will begin flying with customers onboard. One thing that remains true is that the variant will only be allowed airborne once the FAA believes the inspections are conducted in a more than adequate manner.

Airlines impacted, such as Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, have been forced to cancel nearly 20% of their schedule as they are the largest operators of the variant in the spotlight. These cancellations were initially expected to conclude towards the halfway point of this week but will now continue.

These cancellations have left these airlines, among others, scrambling to rebook passengers and send aircraft to cover. However, this hasn’t been possible in some cases, with reports of customers being stranded in specific locations across the network.

FAA Waits For Updated Instructions

Yesterday, Boeing confirmed that it had sent instructions to the FAA that would be crucial in re-approving and inspecting the grounded fleet.

However, these documents had to be revised in light of loose bolts being discovered on several grounded 737-9s with Alaska Airlines and United Airlines.

The upcoming inspections will focus on the left and right cabin door exit plugs, door components and fasteners. In a statement published on January 8, 2024, the FAA further said it would require operators to complete corrective action based on the findings before an aircraft returns to service.

While there’s an understanding of what happened aboard the Alaska Airlines 737-9 that sparked the mass grounding and investigation, the why is unclear.

An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX has seen its exit door blowout during a flight from Portland to Ontario resulting in an emergency landing.
An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-9 was involved in a pressurisation issue from a plug door blowing out.

The idea is that with more thorough inspections and the NTSB’s investigation of the recovered door, clarity will be given concerning why this took place, and a suitable pathway forward can be presented.

However, until this is completed, airlines and the FAA find themselves in a grey area, especially with the governing body awaiting the latest revision from Boeing following new feedback being received.

The Public Appreciates Communication And Time

Following the significant incidents in the late 2010s, the handling of the ongoing incident on the part of the FAA and the NTSB has largely received praise.

On numerous occasions, clear and concise statements that indicate the priority is safety rather than how long the plane remains grounded. This stance is what many argue is a pleasant change of pace from what occurred some time ago with the same series of planes.

While such an incident should never have happened, it’s been important for relevant parties to focus on how they approach the problem. Conducting all appropriate conferences and statements professionally and calmly can do the world good in the long term.

More Widespread Problems?

The new feedback came only following two airlines conducting preliminary inspections, which saw technicians identify loose bolts. As a result, onlookers have presented concerns directed towards the NTSB that other issues with the plane could remain unknown at this stage.

The NTSB is focused on investigating the Alaska Airlines aircraft and relating it to the door exit plugs. However, it said it wouldn’t be afraid to issue more ADs towards other aircraft or the same aircraft but different components if inspections found anything or its technicians did.

What Does This Mean For The 737-7 & 737-10?

While the focus sits on the Boeing 737-9, the American plane maker still has two variants yet to be certified by the FAA. These two variants are the smallest 737-7 and the largest 737-10.

Boeing is currently pushing to certify the 737-7, but will they able to achieve this in 2024 so they can begin delivering it to customers around the world?
Boeing is still awaiting certification to arrive for its 737-7.

Southwest initially expected the 737-7 certification to arrive in early 2024. However, thanks to crew training, delivery timeframe, and more, they didn’t believe it’d fly with their customers before the end of the 2024 calendar year.

Analysts remained cautiously optimistic with the timeline presented by Southwest, which was revealed towards the latter stages of 2023. This timeline factored in any potential delays; however, it didn’t cater to the significant incident involving the 737-9 and thus, the focus shifted once more.

Customers of the two remaining uncertified 737 MAXs have seen patience wear thin over time. With the 737-7 expected to be certified first but a timeframe still unclear, word on when the 737-10 will be approved is even more scarce, and this is the more popular variant.

To Conclude

The Boeing 737-9 grounding will soon approach a week. However, a timeline for its return to service remains unclear per the latest guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Alongside the NTSB, the FAA says it constantly communicates with all parties and wants to ensure safety is the number one priority. This means it doesn’t matter how long the plane remains grounded until it returns safely.

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