Air Canada

737 Max could return to skies as early as August: report

An Air Canada Boeing 737 Max8 departs Vancouver International Airport in February (photo: Brett Ballah).

Airlines could be allowed to fly their 737 Max aircraft as early as August, according to a report Friday in the Seattle Times, good news for airlines that continue to juggle their summer schedules, and sooner than many analysts predict.

The Times quotes an unnamed source familiar with the Federal Aviation Administration saying it could clear the Max as early as next month or early June. Airlines would then have to install new flight control software on their aircraft and train flight crews before the planes could once again handle passengers.

Under those conditions, airlines could start accepting passengers by August.

The news comes as Boston law firm Thornton LLP announced it was investigating the two Max crashes that precipitated the Boeing crisis – Lion Air in Malaysia and Ethiopian Airlines – concentrating on what role the plane’s MCAS flight control system may have played in the deaths of 346 passengers and crew.

“The investigation is focusing on the role Boeing and its suppliers may have played in causing the accidents as a result of possible design or manufacturing defects,” Thornton LLP said in a news release. “This may result in the ability for family members of the victims of these accidents to file lawsuits against Boeing and its suppliers.”

The firm came to prominence in the 1970s, launching class-action lawsuits on behalf of more than 20,000 victims of asbestos-related diseases.

Forty-one Max aircraft have been grounded in Canada since March 13, and investors should get a better idea of the cost of the crisis when Air Canada and Westjet report their quarterly financial results in early May.

Air Canada has planned for a Max grounding until at least August 1.

The airline has kept some leased planes in the fleet, sped up the introduction of used A321s bought from now-defunct Wow Air, asked other airlines to assume some flights, and leased a 767 from Omni Air International to fly between Vancouver and Hawaii. Air Canada has also delayed the start of some summer routes, and has grounded three others – TorontoAbbotsford, CalgaryLondon, Ontario, and Toronto-Shannon, Ireland – for the season.

Air Canada lost 24 airplanes from the fleet when the Max was grounded, and expected to receive another dozen from the Boeing factory by the end of July.

Westjet has grounded 13 Max aircraft, while Sunwing has grounded four.

Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said in a conference call Wednesday the company had completed 135 flights with the new software, and was confident in the fix. He said the next flight would be used to certify the fix.

In addition, Muilenburg told analysts he is keen to convince pilots of the plane’s safety, since they have the most intimate connection between the aircraft and passengers.

The FAA has convened an international working group to review the Max, their work starts Monday. The agency has also convened a meeting May 23 with regulators from around the world. The Times, again citing unnamed sources, said Boeing and the FAA are keen to establish a world-wide consensus to get the Max back in the air.