Boeing 737 Max May Stay Grounded Into Summer Boeing suggests it could fly about mid-2020. Industry sources note that the FAA and other regulators around the world could take months longer to find the planes safe to fly passengers.

Boeing 737 Max May Stay Grounded Into Summer

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Boeing and its regulators at the FAA keep finding new problems with the 737 Max. So the planes will not fly this summer, which of course is the busiest travel season of the year. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Boeing is once again pushing back its estimate of when the 737 Max will be approved by regulators to return to service to mid-2020. That likely means June or July at the earliest. But ultimately, the FAA and other global regulators will determine when the 737 Max is safe to fly passengers again, and that could take months longer. The planes have already been grounded since last March after the second of two crashes that killed 346 people.

JOSEPH SCHWIETERMAN: The longer these planes are on the ground, the bigger the problem becomes.

SCHAPER: Joe Schwieterman is an aviation expert at Chicago's DePaul University. He says airlines need to plan their flight schedules months in advance. Now not only can they not use the 737 Max planes they already had, but they're not getting new ones that they ordered to replace older, less fuel-efficient jets and to expand routes.

SCHWIETERMAN: That means lost profits. It's going to drive up fares. And plus, the planes that have been sitting on the ground a while - the maintenance needs of those planes and so forth worsen, you know, as they sit mothballed. It's a real logistical nightmare right now.

SCHAPER: So even when the Max is cleared to fly again, it will take airlines several weeks to get the planes ready to fly and pilots retrained. Boeing has agreed to pay billions to compensate airlines for their losses from the Max grounding, as the problems with the plane are not just limited to the automated flight control system that investigators point to as a primary cause of the crashes.

FAA test pilots discovered a second flight control problem last summer. A more recently discovered software glitch sometimes prevents flight deck computers from turning on, and some bundles of electrical wiring were found to be too close together and could short-circuit and cause a crash.

PAUL HUDSON: Clearly, Boeing has been less than forthcoming with problems.

SCHAPER: Paul Hudson is with the airline passenger advocacy group FlyersRights.org, and he blames Boeing leadership for prioritizing profits and shareholder value over safety.

HUDSON: They have turned their corporation into a cash cow for dividends and, essentially, for stock manipulation. Those chickens have now come home to roost.

SCHAPER: Boeing's new CEO Dave Calhoun is in Seattle this week trying to boost the sagging morale of airplane manufacturing employees, and he'll hold a conference call today to answer reporters' questions - the first time any Boeing official has done that since the Max crisis began.

David Schaper, NPR News.

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