Last month, aviation safety agencies in the USA and Brazil recertified the Boeing 737 MAX series for commercial service. This followed a grounding period of almost two years, triggered by two similar accidents involving the type. Airlines worldwide will now begin preparing for the delivery of new MAX series aircraft. However, which airlines that have not yet placed an order may prove to do so further down the line?
What is the current situation with the MAX?
The Boeing 737 MAX first entered commercial service with Malaysian airline Malindo Air in May 2017. However, less than two years later, aviation safety agencies grounded the type worldwide. This followed two accidents that bore striking parallels and subsequently raised serious questions concerning the type’s safety. The crashes of Lion Air flight 610 (October 2018) and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 (March 2019) resulted in 346 fatalities.
During the grounding period that followed, Boeing has looked to address the aircraft’s safety issues to ensure that such accidents involving the type will not happen again. All in all, these processes took over 20 months.
Then, on November 18th, 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally recertified the type for commercial service in the USA. The American government body was the first aviation safety agency to do so. On November 25th, the Brazilian National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) became the second regulator to recertify the MAX series for commercial flights in its airspace.
The MAX’s first post-recertification commercial flights are set to follow at the end of this month. American Airlines is planning to roll the type out on a daily round-trip from Miami to New York LaGuardia as of December 29th. But will the MAX’s reintroduction to commercial service prompt other carriers to place new orders for the type?
Delta – an anomaly among larger US carriers?
As we recently discussed in our podcast, Boeing has constructed several ‘white-tail’ 737 MAX series aircraft. These examples are ready to commence operational service but have had their orders canceled by previous customers. Of course, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has significantly reduced passenger demand levels worldwide. As such, one might expect that most airlines are not currently looking to expand their fleets.
However, it has been reported that Delta Air Lines is currently in discussions with Boeing regarding the potential future use of these white-tails. As it stands, Delta is the only ‘big three’ US airline not to have placed any orders for the MAX series. This sets it apart from its big three counterparts, American and United, both of whom had already taken deliveries before the type’s grounding.
It will certainly be interesting to see whether anything comes of these discussions in the near future. Talking to the Financial Times on the matter, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said:
“We’re talking to Boeing about lots of different things, the MAX included. If there is an opportunity where we would feel comfortable acquiring the MAX we’d have no hesitation doing that.”
Other potential customers
In our podcast, when discussing large American carriers and the 737 MAX, we observed that, if Delta does order the MAX, that will leave JetBlue as the only larger mainland American airline not to have the type in its fleet. The carrier’s fleet consists entirely of Airbus and Embraer aircraft. As such, it instead sees its future in the form of the Airbus A220 and next-generation Airbus A321 variants.
As we reported in August, IAG had signed a letter of intent for 200 MAX aircraft the previous summer, although it is yet to firm this up. This group is the parent company of such carriers as Aer Lingus, British Airways, and Iberia.
Notably, the Irish and Spanish flag carriers operate all-Airbus fleets. As such, it appears that British Airways will plan to spread some of the MAX aircraft across its two London hubs, at Heathrow and Gatwick. We also considered at the time whether the new aircraft, if IAG does go through with the order, might see action at the group’s smaller members, namely Vueling and Level.
Should IAG not take up these aircraft, that may open the door for other carriers. Australian flag carrier Qantas is just one example of an airline currently operating older 737s that may turn to the MAX to replace them later on. It will certainly be fascinating to see how the post-recertification MAX market develops in years to come.