After a thorough and comprehensive review of Boeing’s enhancements to the 737 MAX 8, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued official requirements that enable airlines to return the MAX to service. Southwest is in receipt of the FAA’s directive regarding flight control software updates and additional Pilot training related to the MAX, and we are ready to meet each requirement. There is much work to be done before our MAX aircraft will resume service, which we estimate will likely take place no sooner than the second quarter of 2021. Today, I want to share a few of our thoughts and plans.
First and foremost, there is nothing more sacred to me than the Safety of our Customers and Employees. If we had a cause for doubt of the Safety of our fleet—or any subset of it—simply put, the planes would not fly. That is a moral obligation that I share with my fellow Southwest Family Members who work, fly, and travel with our own families on these aircraft. This is not only our profession, career, and livelihoods—it’s deeply personal to all of us.
Our Southwest Pilot Leadership Team has reviewed and expressed confidence in the MAX software and training updates following Boeing’s enhancements to the aircraft. I have personally been in contact with Boeing and the FAA regarding the changes and have been briefed by our internal experts. Additionally, aviation regulators from countries around the world have reviewed Boeing’s changes to the aircraft and the FAA’s new requirements.
Without getting too technical, we understand that Boeing has made changes to the flight control system that now compares input from two angle of attack sensors as opposed to one; the aircraft only responds if data from both sensors agree and only activates once per event; and Pilots always have the ability to override the aircraft’s input. These changes have been reviewed and approved by the FAA, and, with these enhancements, I am confident we will be ready to operate the MAX in accordance with the FAA’s requirements. I am going to be flying on the MAX before we return the aircraft to service—and the same is true for many other Southwest Leaders.
Before we return the aircraft to customer service, however, every active Southwest Pilot will complete additional FAA-required flight training in one of our nine 737 MAX simulators and will complete additional FAA-required computer-based training covering MAX procedures. Southwest will also require active Pilots to re-take our original 737 MAX 8 computer-based differences training as a refresher to complement the FAA-required training. Additionally, Southwest will conduct multiple readiness flights on each of our 34 MAX aircraft and complete thousands of hours of work, inspections, and the software updates before any of our Customers board a Southwest 737 MAX.
At Southwest, we only operate Boeing 737s, and our Pilots are highly trained and experienced at flying the aircraft. In fact, before the 737 MAX was grounded, Southwest Pilots flew almost 40,000 flights on the aircraft, which is more than 89,000 flight hours. Now, we’ll approach returning the MAX to service with the same commitment to training that we’ve employed for almost 50 years coupled with an uncompromising and unwavering commitment to Safety. For us, it’s a passionate pursuit, and it’s among the most important work of our careers.
Finally, we invite you to continue reading for more information regarding our plans for returning the aircraft to service. On this site, we feature a video from Senior Vice President of Air Operations Alan Kasher that explains next steps, including the additional Pilot training that will take place before the MAX will return to service. We will continue updating the site with additional information as we move forward. Our goal throughout this process is to be open and transparent with you every step of the way—just as you’ve come to expect from us.
Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding throughout our upcoming return-to-service process for the 737 MAX. As always, we appreciate your support.
Southwest Estimated 737 Max 8 Return to Service Timeline. F.A.A issues requirements for returning the 737 MAX 8 to service. Phase 1, Preparing 737 MAX materials for F.A.A review. 15 plus days. Southwest updates Operational Manuals with new procedures. Southwest finalizes training curriculum for Pilots. Southwest submits all materials to the F.A.A for review and approval. Phase 2, F.A.A approval achieved: Launch return to service plan. 120 plus days. Remove MAX from storage. Install software update on every MAX. Train all active Southwest Pilots. Each Southwest MAX will fly multiple Readiness Flights with Pilot from our flight Operations Team (without Customers onboard). Final Phase, the MAX returns to service.
As of December 2020, Southwest estimates service will resume no sooner than March 2021.
Yes, we are. The Southwest Team has carefully reviewed the FAA-required software enhancements, revised operational procedures, and Pilot training requirements. With these changes, we believe the MAX is now among the most reviewed and tested commercial aircraft in the world, and we have confidence in our ability to operate the MAX in accordance with FAA requirements. Additionally, aviation regulators from countries around the world have reviewed Boeing’s changes to the aircraft and the FAA’s new requirements.
Southwest Pilots are among the most experienced Boeing 737 aviators in the industry -- in fact, it’s the only aircraft we fly. Our Pilots flew almost 40,000 flights with the MAX prior to the grounding, which is more than 89,000 flight hours. We know the 737, we train in the 737, and we take our mission to return the 737 MAX safely to the skies very seriously.
Yes! Before we bring the aircraft back into service, every active Southwest Pilot will undergo FAA-required flight training in a 737 MAX simulator.
In fact, Southwest has spent more than a year obtaining, installing, and certifying nine 737 MAX simulators that join 15 other 737-700 and 737-800 simulators as part of our Pilot training center in Dallas. To supplement the flight training, all of our active Pilots will complete computer-based training modules reviewing MAX procedures and operations, as required both by the FAA and Southwest.
To prepare for service, there will be a great deal of work going on behind the scenes to remove Southwest’s 34 MAX aircraft from storage, install the new software, and perform maintenance checks on every aircraft. Additionally, our Flight Operations Team will conduct Readiness Flights by flying each Southwest 737 MAX multiple times, without Customers onboard, prior to welcoming you and our fellow Southwest Employees back onboard.
Boeing has made changes to the flight control system that now compares input from two angle of attack sensors as opposed to one; the aircraft only responds if data from both sensors agree and only activates once per event; and Pilots always have the ability to override the aircraft’s input.
The Southwest Pilot Leadership Team has reviewed the software and training updates proposed by Boeing, and required by the FAA, and has expressed confidence that the changes will add another layer of Safety to the MAX.
Additionally, Southwest believes the MAX will be among the most reviewed and tested commercial aircraft in the world, and we have confidence in our ability to operate the MAX in accordance with FAA requirements.
Southwest’s goal is to provide transparency and flexibility to Customers when the 737 MAX 8 returns to service. The temporary policy flexibilities will include allowing Customers booked on a 737 MAX 8 to request a change to a flight on one of our 737-700 or 737-800 aircraft as they approach their departure date, subject to seat availability. There will be no fare difference charged so long as the new flight includes the same origin and destination cities. Please be aware the flight a Customer changes to may ultimately depart on a 737 MAX 8, as aircraft type always remains subject to change per Southwest’s Contract of Carriage.
If a Customer chooses not to travel, they also may request a full refund of refundable tickets back to the original form of payment. Nonrefundable tickets may be cancelled, and the funds will be converted to reusable travel funds for the originally ticketed Customer, in accordance with Southwest’s travel fund policies.
We will communicate specific details on policy flexibilities, including the duration, as we move closer to putting the MAX back into our schedule in 2021.
Customers are able to view the scheduled aircraft type on their itinerary. Please keep in mind that aircraft swaps can occur, meaning the scheduled aircraft at the time of booking may be different than the aircraft type scheduled on the day of travel. We encourage Customers to check aircraft type closer to the scheduled departure date.