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Boeing 737 Max won't return to service before 2020

Boeing on Thursday abandoned its goal of winning approval this month to unground the 737 Max after chief executive Dennis Muilenburg met with senior U.S. aviation officials.

Airplane maker 'committed to addressing all of the FAA's questions,' CEO says

This photo from May shows an Icelandair Boeing 737 Max in a parking lot at a Boeing facility in Seattle. Boeing said the 737 Max won't return to service before 2020, abandoning its previous goal of ungrounding the plane before the new year. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

Boeing on Thursday abandoned its goal of winning approval this month from the Federal Aviation Administration to unground the 737 Max after chief executive Dennis Muilenburg met with senior U.S. aviation officials.

The announcement came after a congressional hearing on Wednesday in which numerous lawmakers prodded the FAA to take a tougher line with Boeing as it continues to review the plane that has been grounded since March after two fatal crashes.

FAA administrator Steve Dickson said Wednesday he would not clear the plane to fly before 2020, and disclosed the agency has an ongoing investigation into 737 production issues in Renton, Wash. He added there are nearly a dozen milestones that must be completed before the Max returns to service.

Muilenburg and Boeing's commercial airplanes chief Stan Deal met with Dickson and "committed to addressing all of the FAA's questions," the company said, adding it will work to support the FAA's "requirements and their timeline as we work to safely return the Max to service in 2020."

Boeing's shares fell 1.5 per cent. Boeing previously warned a significant delay in Max approval could force it to cut or halt production of the aircraft, a move that would have repercussions across its global supply chain.

In November, Boeing said it expected the agency would allow it to begin deliveries again in December.

In an email earlier to congressional staff on Thursday disclosing the meeting, and seen by Reuters, FAA official Philip Newman said Dickson is "concerned that Boeing continues to pursue a return-to-service schedule that is not realistic due to delays that have accumulated for a variety of reasons. More concerning, the administrator wants to directly address the perception that some of Boeing's public statements have been designed to force FAA into taking quicker action."

The plane was grounded in March after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people.

Federal officials told Reuters earlier this week the FAA is not expected to authorize the plane to fly until January at the earliest, citing significant work still to be done. Some U.S. officials think it may not be until at least February that Dickson gives the green light.

The three U.S. carriers that operate the Max — Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines — are scheduling flights without use of the aircraft until early March 2020.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said Thursday it is "likely" the airline will again need to push back the date, while American Airlines said it will extend cancellations of Boeing 737 Max flights through April 6.

American Airlines, the largest U.S. airline, had previously cancelled about 140 flights a day through March 4 and now expects to resume 737 Max passenger flights on April 7.

Once the FAA gives 737 Max approval, American will need at least 30 days to prepare the jets and its pilots for commercial flights, airline and union officials have said.

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