Aviation

Airlines are still canceling flights, 3 weeks after Boeing 737 Max jets were grounded

Southwest’s new Boeing 737 MAX

Southwest Airlines' showed off the new Boeing 737 MAX to employees on Friday. (September 23, 2016)
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Southwest Airlines' showed off the new Boeing 737 MAX to employees on Friday. (September 23, 2016)

Three weeks after President Trump announced an emergency order grounding all Boeing 737 Max aircraft because of two overseas crashes, airlines such as American and Southwest continue to struggle with canceled flights.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines is canceling about 90 flights a day, a spokeswoman said, although the cancellations are spread across the airline’s network and not focused on specific routes. American owns 24 of the 737 Max aircraft — a small part of its fleet of more than 950 planes.

This week, the FAA announced that several more weeks would be needed before Boeing could complete a software update intended to get the airplanes back in the air.

“We are aware that the resumption of service for our 737 MAX aircraft may be further delayed, and our team will work with all customers impacted by any flight cancellations in order to rebook them to their final destination,” American Airlines officials said in a statement.

In Dallas, Southwest Airlines is canceling about 140 flights per day, spokesman Chris Mainz said. Southwest owns 34 of the 737 Max model, a fraction of its fleet of roughly 750 planes.

“Our operators are accustomed to making frequent changes within our schedule and have customized technology that is designed to assist with large and small routing modifications,” Mainz said in an email.

The concern about Boeing’s popular Max line of commercial aircraft was raised anew in early March, after a brand new 737 Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia, killing all 157 aboard. That tragedy came about five months after the crash of a 737 Max 8 in the seas of Indonesia, killing 189 people.

In both crashes, investigators are exploring what role a sensoring function known as the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) played in the pilots’ loss of control.

The MCAS was installed by Boeing to help the Boeing Max aircraft -- which have much larger engines compared to previous Boeing models -- avoid stalling while climbing after takeoff. But some critics have said pilots may not have been sufficiently trained to respond if the MCAS sensors failed.

The FAA issued a statement this week saying the agency expected “to receive Boeing’s final package of its software enhancement over the coming weeks.”

“Time is needed for additional work by Boeing as the result of an ongoing review of the 737 MAX Flight Control System to ensure that Boeing has identified and appropriately addressed all pertinent issues,” the FAA statement read. “Upon receipt, the FAA will subject Boeing’s completed submission to a rigorous safety review. The FAA will not approve the software for installation until the agency is satisfied with the submission.”

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.


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