The impact of the grounding of the Boeing MAX keeps spreading. The impact has now reached pilot training at Southwest. Which means it is also about to or has reached that level at American and United as well. It is surely about to do the same at other airlines with MAX in their fleets.
As airlines move back re-entry into service for the MAX fleet, costs continue to rise. ISHKA, a consulting firm, reports “The continued uncertainty over the length of the MAX grounding poses a dilemma to lessors – a handful of which have offered their airline customers rental holidays or deferrals.” The current expectations are for the MAX to start flying commercially in 1Q20 – though that can easily slip to 2Q20. American is hoping for November 2019. Southwest is planning for October 2019. We probably will hear from United about this after their earnings call. Ryanair is openly uncertain about the return to service but is clear the delay curbs growth plans in 2020.
Of growing concern is the fact that when the go-ahead for return to service is given, the orchestration of aircraft and crews with schedules will be annoyingly complex. As annoying as the grounding has been, so will be the return to service. Ryanair notes they can only take 30 MAX deliveries in 2020 instead of the 58 originally planned. Another example of tightening conditions was when Norwegian couldn’t reposition a MAX when Germany refused it overflight permission. Loosening the market will take some time.
Earlier this year Icelandair laid off 24 pilots and delayed new pilot hires because of the MAX. Airline pilots’ site PPRuNE has a testy series of comments by pilots on the matter. Laying off pilots during a rising pilot shortage is telling. Pilots are clearly annoyed at the MAX grounding. Over 400 pilots have filed a class-action suit against Boeing over the MAX grounding.
Another item to consider for service re-entry is the supply of MAX simulators. When the aircraft is allowed to fly commercially again pilots are almost certainly going to require some training. And the current simulators are too few and flawed. After all, the claim that the plane is safe and the crashes were due to pilot error, de facto demands more pilot training on the MAX. Boeing claimed the MAX was safe after the Lion Air crash but before the Ethiopian crash. Pilots challenged Boeing on this. It seems clear now that converting from piloting the NG to MAX requires more than two hours on an iPad in additional training. Never mind the claim pilots don’t need the training.
The Bottom Line: There is a lot of angst over the MAX within the pilot community related to safety, training, and now operational disruptions. Regaining trust and smoothing relationships won’t be an easy or fast process once the MAX returns to service.