The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the governing and regulating body of U.S. aviation, held meetings April 12 with representatives from three major U.S. airlines and their pilot unions to discuss the future of Boeing 737 MAX operations in the U.S.
American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines, the three U.S. based carriers that own and operate the 737 MAX, all met for approximately three hours with FAA officials to discuss comments and concerns the groups had regarding the transition of the MAX back into service, which the FAA is hoping to do over the course of the next couple months.
FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell told Reuters the agency hosted the meeting because the carriers’ “operational perspective is critical input as the agency welcomes scrutiny on how it can do better.”
According to the FAA, the meeting was centered around preliminary reports on the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes that led to the worldwide grounding of the 737 MAX as well as the software updates to the system believed to have caused both crashes.
Though neither the agency nor carriers have given any indication as to when they expect the 737 MAX to be ungrounded — though some carriers have canceled scheduled MAX service through much of the summer — the consequences continue to hurt many airline and passengers’ schedules and plans. Southwest said it has been forced to cancel over 100 flights per day as a result of not having enough aircraft to operate its planned daily schedule, while American has canceled over 50 MAX flights per day for some of its schedule for the same reason.
“We’re all stakeholders in this to get this done right,” Dennis Tajer, spokesperson for the union representing American Airlines pilots, said after the meeting. “Our watches are off, calendars are in the drawer, we’re going to take this on a pacing of getting it done right and getting all of our pilots’ concerns addressed.”
One question the groups are all going to struggle with is going to be how to address public opinion on the aircraft. When the airplane was originally taken out of service, experts both quietly and loudly questioned whether a public misunderstanding was to blame. Those who brought forward that idea pointed to the fact that the plane still should have been safe in the hands of a properly trained pilot but blamed the media and unknowledgeable “talking heads” for stirring worry in the general public about the safety of all MAX aircraft.
Even if the aircraft were deemed completely safe by Boeing, by pilots and by regulators, the groups would have to overcome the next hurdle of how to convince passengers of the same thing. Of course, it’s entirely possible the time out of the spotlight that has come from already being out of service for a month will have allowed the worry to die down, meaning any reentry into service would be smooth.
And while there is little to be certain about for the MAX — from when it will be back into the air to how many more airlines will cancel orders for the aircraft in the weeks and months ahead — the world will definitely be watching as Boeing fights to get it flying again all over the world.