Boeing’s much-maligned 737 Max jet could be cleared to fly again in just a few weeks, and one U.S. airline is planning to carry passengers on the jetliner as early as December.

Although the Federal Aviation Administration has not disclosed a public timeline for the Max’s return to service, approval to lift the grounding could come as early as mid-November, according to Reuters.

Boeing executives said they expect to gain FAA recertification before the end of the year. The company will also need to get approval from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and Transport Canada, which are conducting their own respective reviews.


The Max was grounded globally in March 2019 following two fatal crashes involving the plane type: Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019. The crashes claimed the lives of 346 people.

In both instances, pilots struggled with the Max’s flight-control system, designed to prevent the plane from stalling. Boeing said it has instituted a series of hardware and software fixes to address the problem, which are in the final phase of review from the FAA.

The agency has also recommended that Max pilots undergo simulator training so they can recognize and confront problems before issues become catastrophic.

When the Max was grounded 18 months ago, airlines struggled to backfill the lost capacity of the airplanes. Hundreds of flights ended up canceled, stranding thousands of travelers. Growth and expansion plans dependent on the new plane were put on hold at many airlines.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

Passenger demand has cratered to historic lows. Airlines are parking and storing hundreds of jets and deferring the deliveries of new ones, including the 737 Max.

American plans first 737 Max flights

American Airlines said it plans to operate one daily Boeing 737 Max roundtrip from Dec. 29 through Jan. 4 between its Miami hub and New York’s LaGuardia Airport. If it takes off, American will be the first US carrier to bring back the Max.

“Our Boeing 737 Max return to service plans remain highly dependent on the FAA’s recertification process,” an airline spokesperson said. “To ensure American is ready to fly the 737 Max once the aircraft is certified, our crew members must be able to bid their schedules for this line of flying.”

RELATED: How to tell if the Boeing 737 you’re flying is a Max

American put the flights on sale on Oct. 24. An airline spokesperson said customers will not be automatically re-accommodated if they had an existing reservation before the plane type swap.

Other U.S. airlines operating the Max are taking a wait-and-see approach before assigning the fleet type to flights.

A Southwest Airlines spokesperson told SFGATE that it was waiting for regulatory guidance from the FAA to plan its return to service of the Max. Before the pandemic, Southwest planned to use the plane on flights between California and Hawaii, so there could be a chance Max jets will take on a lot of flying to the islands once they’ve re-entered service at Southwest. The airline will resume its Hawaii flights Nov. 4.

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A United Airlines executive said in an earnings call last week: “We don’t know the exact date the Max will be recertified. And at this point, we don’t have them in the schedule this year, so likely sometime next year based on the schedule we hear from the FAA and Boeing.” Before the grounding, United operated Max flights to San Francisco International Airport from its Houston hub, and on flights between SFO and some of Hawaii’s outlying islands.

At Alaska Airlines, a spokesperson said the carrier would announce plans for the fleet once the FAA lifts the grounding. The airline’s first Max planes were scheduled for delivery after the grounding was ordered.

How to know if you are flying the 737 Max

Prior to the shutdown, Copa Airlines flew the 737 Max, identified by its serrated nacelles, between SFO and Panama City.

Prior to the shutdown, Copa Airlines flew the 737 Max, identified by its serrated nacelles, between SFO and Panama City.

Chris McGinnis

The easiest way to determine whether you’re on a Max flight is to check the plane type during booking. All airlines will list what kind of plane will be operating for each flight. The information may be tucked away in the details link of each flight option, so be aware of that.

Airlines will spell out the phrase “Max” in that section, or they may use these airline industry codes 7M7, 7M8 or 7M9. Most online travel websites, like Expedia and Priceline, do the same.

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