American Airlines’ recent removal of the Boeing 737 MAX from its schedules until early September was made to ease the carrier’s pilot and cabin-crew bidding process, rather than because of signs of continued delay in getting the grounded fleet cleared to fly, CEO Doug Parker said.

“We’ve now moved the date to which we’re selling seats back to Sept. 3,” Parker said at the airline’s annual shareholder meeting June 12. “No one should take that … as some indication that we think the aircraft won’t be ready by Aug. 19,” the date that it previously had for the MAX’s first post-grounding revenue flights. Rather, the added time “is what we and our internal planning need to start putting bids for our crew members, pilots and flight attendants out through the full month of August, ... which ends on Sept. 3. That’s why we moved the date back,” he said.

Global regulators grounded the MAX fleet in mid-March following two accidents in five months. Boeing is close to finalizing changes to the aircraft’s flight control software and training aimed at reducing the risk of malfunctions identified as contributors in both accidents. FAA has said it does not have a timeline for approving the changes and lifting its flight ban. 

The situation has created uncertainty for operators. In the US, Southwest Airlines has removed its 34 MAXs from its schedule through Aug. 5, while United Airlines still has them flying from early July onward.

FAA is expected to hold a meeting for US-based operators and pilot groups once the agency is poised to approve Boeing’s final package of changes and training. That meeting, which has not been scheduled, will serve as the de facto precursor to FAA removing its MAX ban, several sources tell ATW.

“What we understand is that there is an absolute fix for the aircraft and that [it] is an excellent fix,” Parker said. “In terms of software, we hope it will be certified in time for us to deliver service to our customers that are buying tickets today for travel as of Sept. 3.”

Should the MAX be cleared to fly long before American has them on the schedule, the carrier could use the extra time to help restore passenger confidence through demonstration flights and other tactics, Parker suggested.

“What really matters is at the end of the day, if an American Airlines pilot is comfortable taking up an aircraft, I know and our customers should know that aircraft is 100% safe,” he said. “That’s not bravado. Indeed, it’s the exact opposite. They’re exceptionally well-trained. They’re safety professionals.”

The Allied Pilots Association that represents American’s pilots has said the airline’s management will approve additional training modules for MAX pilots if the pilots believe the revised baseline standards do not go far enough. Boeing and FAA are still finalizing the new training, which was previewed in a publicly available draft released in April. The new training will focus on the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system flight-control law that Boeing has modified, as well as related emergency procedures.

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@aviationweek.com