July 23, 2020 / 12:48 PM / 21 days ago

Southwest says not scheduling the Boeing 737 MAX until mid-December

FILE PHOTO: A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California, U.S., March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) will keep the Boeing Co (BA.N) 737 MAX off its schedule through mid-December, it said on Thursday, as regulators review the grounded plane’s return after two fatal crashes.

At the time of the grounding, U.S. airlines including Southwest were growing their networks and eager to bring more of the fuel-efficient MAX jets into their fleets.

Now airlines are parking planes as the coronavirus saps demand.

Southwest still has 100 aircraft in storage, including 34 MAX aircraft, it said in its quarterly results release, after it parked 400 planes in April as the pandemic brought the industry to a near halt.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Tuesday it plans to issue a proposed airworthiness directive for the Boeing 737 MAX in the “near future” to address changes made following the two crashes, which killed 346 people.

The FAA is unlikely to certify the 737 MAX for flight before some time in October, an official briefed on the matter told Reuters.

Southwest has said it will need between 30 and 60 days following certification to prepare its MAX aircraft and pilots to fly commercially again.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; editing by Jason Neely

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