Boeing made official Tuesday what major airlines had already surmised: Federal Aviation Administration approval needed to return the 737 Max jetliner to flight isn't expected until the critical summer travel season.
"We are currently estimating that the ungrounding of the 737 Max will begin during mid-2020. This updated estimate is informed by our experience to date with the certification process," Boeing said in a statement.
Boeing underscored its assessment is a best guess. The FAA and its foreign counterparts control the complicated process of approving changes in the jetliner that was involved in two crashes. Even after the grounding order is lifted, upgrading the planes and retraining crews could effectively keep the 737 Max out of service through the summer, the season in which planes are filled with vacationing families.
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The 737 Max was grounded after the crashes of two jets - a Lion Air flight in October 2018 and an Ethiopian Airlines flight last March. The twin accidents of the Max, the latest version of the jet that has flown since the 1960s, killed a total of 346 passengers and crew.
The FAA, in reaction to Boeing's statement, said it is in no rush to approve the changes, given the safety issues.
"The agency is following a thorough, deliberate process to verify that all proposed modifications to the Boeing 737 Max meet the highest certification standards," it said Tuesday. "We continue to work with other safety regulators to review Boeing's work as the company conducts the required safety assessments and addresses all issues that arise during testing. We have set no timeframe for when the work will be completed."
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The announcement comes as no surprise to three of the major operators of the Max in the USA. Southwest, American and United airlines all pushed back the return of the Max to June in their flight schedules. The airlines' moves were the latest in a rolling pushback of those dates.
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Some doubt Boeing's latest prediction will hold.
"Not a chance," said Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate whose grandniece died in one of the crashes. "Boeing has its head in the sand."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Boeing says 737 Max plane's return delayed until summer after crashes