(Bloomberg) – Boeing Co. jumped after providing more detail on how the 737 MAX will return to the skies – even as the company backed away from earlier assurances that the grounded jet would win full regulatory approval by year-end.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is on track to certify redesigned flight-control software by mid-December, Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Monday in an email. That could enable the planemaker to begin shipping new jets that have been stashed across the Pacific Northwest and Texas during a flying ban imposed in March after two crashes killed 346 people.
But the MAX won’t be cleared to resume commercial flights until regulators also sign off on updated training material for pilots — a step Boeing expects in January. And the company acknowledged it will take time for airlines to ready stored jets for service and work them back into flight schedules.
“We continue to see the global average MAX RTS in March 2020,” Bank of America Corp. analyst Ron Epstein said in a report, using an acronym that stands for “return to service.” He cited “the high level of coordination required between the FAA and other global aviation regulators” for the timetable.
Still, the detailed road map eased investor jitters over the prospects for Boeing’s main source of profit after months of damaging revelations. The shares rose 4.5% to $366.96 at the close in New York, the biggest trading gain since June 18.
Boeing still has much work to do, and its earlier pronouncements of the MAX’s return proved to be overly optimistic. In particular, the company must still evaluate how pilots handle cockpit stresses. Investigators flagged the so-called “human factors” issues after crews in the fatal accidents struggled with new flight-control software amid a cacophony of alarms.
The largest MAX customer, Southwest Airlines Co., sounded a more cautious note around the timing of when the plane will again carry passengers.
“I’m still not highly confident about a mid-December ungrounding date,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a weekly message to employees before Boeing’s statement. “We obviously need to give the FAA the time that they need to do their job and support them every way we can.”
But Kelly also voiced confidence in Boeing’s progress toward winning regulatory approval for the revamped MAX.
“As time goes by, the more confident I am that we’re on a path to getting that airplane back in the air,” Kelly said.
Southwest and American Airlines Group Inc. have said they intend to remove the MAX from their flight schedules through early March, marking almost a year since the aircraft was grounded worldwide following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane on March 10. A Lion Air jet slammed into the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia in October 2018.
Last week, Boeing completed a key step toward gaining final clearance for the MAX: sessions with the FAA in engineering simulators known as eCabs to ensure that the overall software systems perform as intended, both in normal conditions and amid failures.
The remaining milestones are:
- A multiday simulator session with airline pilots to assess “human factors” and crew workload;
- FAA certification flight or flights to test the final version of the software in a Boeing MAX loaded with monitoring equipment;
- Final submission of relevant documents to support software certification; and
- A multiday simulator session with pilots from global regulators to validate training under the oversight of the Joint Operational Evaluation Board, an international group of regulators.
Following that session, the FAA’s Flight Standardization Board will release a report for public comment, followed by final approval of the training.