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Boeing 737 MAX 9
A photographer takes a picture of the first Boeing 737 MAX 9 jet during its assembly at the company’s Renton plant in 2017. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Boeing today acknowledged that it doesn’t expect 737 MAX airplanes to be back in service until mid-2020, months later than previously projected.

  • Hundreds of 737 MAX jets were grounded last March in the wake of two catastrophic crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia — and the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t yet signed off on the software fixes and pilot training procedures that Boeing says should remedy the airplane’s problems. In today’s statement, Boeing emphasized that it’s up to the FAA and other regulators to determine the timetable for the 737 MAX’s return to service. Nevertheless, the company said it’s sharing its best estimate of when regulators will begin to authorize the plane’s ungrounding “in order to help our customers and suppliers plan their operations.”
  • Previous estimates have focused on the February-March time frame, but airlines had already been planning for further delays. Over the past few weeks, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and United have said they would scratch the 737 MAX flights they had scheduled through early June. Today’s announcement suggests the schedule for a return to full operations could be pushed back even further.
  • Today’s bad news contributed to a 3.3% decline in the price of Boeing’s shares, which stood at $313.37 at the end of the trading day. Boeing said it’d provide more details about its efforts to return the 737 MAX to service next week in connection with its quarterly financial report. Today also brought a bit of good news: Boeing is planning to put its next-generation 777X jet through its first test flight on Thursday, weather permitting.

Update for 3:40 p.m. PT Jan. 24: The 777X first flight was called off for Thursday, then scrubbed after hours of waiting on Friday, due to unacceptable wind conditions. A re-do is planned for Saturday.

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