Southwest Airlines extends 737 MAX cancellations through October 1

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

(Reuters) – Southwest Airlines Co on Thursday said it was extending the cancellation of Boeing’s 737 MAX planes from its flying schedule until Oct. 1, a day after the Federal Aviation Administration warned it had uncovered a new issue that must be resolved before the plane can be ungrounded.

The airline had previously planned to keep the jet off its flying schedule through Sept. 2. Boeing Co’s MAX fleet has been grounded since March, following a second fatal crash in five months.

Southwest, the world’s largest MAX operator with 34 jets, said the delay will result in removing about 150 flights out of its total peak daily schedule of 4,000.

The FAA on Wednesday said it had identified a new potential risk that Boeing must address on the planes.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that Boeing will not conduct a certification test flight until July 8, under a best-case scenario. The test is a necessary step before Boeing can submit a formal request for approval of a software upgrade for the planes.

Southwest said it “made this decision before any developments of the past few days.”

Once the FAA approves the MAX for flight, Southwest has said it would take about 30 days to get the jets up and running again.

American Airlines said on Thursday it did not “have any schedule announcement to make at this time.” United Airlines on Wednesday said it was extending cancellations into September.

Boeing shares were down 2.5% at $365.48 on Thursday.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Bill Berkrot)

United Continental pulls 737 MAX flights out of schedule

FILE PHOTO: A worker from United attends to some customers during their check in process at Newark International airport in New Jersey , November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

(Reuters) – United Continental Holdings Inc said on Monday it had pulled Boeing Co’s 737 MAX flights out of its schedule through early July, following similar moves by rivals American Airlines Group Inc and Southwest Airlines Co.

United, with 14 MAX jets, had largely avoided cancellations by servicing MAX routes with larger 777 or 787 aircraft.

But the airline’s president, Scott Kirby, warned last week that the strategy was costing it money and could not go on forever.

Boeing’s 737 MAX planes have been grounded worldwide since March after an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed, killing all 157 aboard, just five months after a similar crash of Indonesia’s Lion Air flight.

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

With 737 MAX grounded, airlines face daily scheduling challenges

FILE PHOTO: Southwest Airlines Co. Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft sit next to the maintenance area after landing at Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kamil Kraczynski

By Tracy Rucinski and Allison Lampert

CHICAGO/MONTREAL (Reuters) – Following the global grounding of Boeing Co’s 737 MAX jets, U.S. and Canadian airlines that fly the roughly 175-seat aircraft face a fresh logistical challenge every day: which flights to cancel and which to cover with other planes.

Southwest Airlines Co and American Airlines Group Inc, the two largest MAX operators in the United States, said they have bolstered their reservation and operations teams to figure out how to spread flight cancellations across their networks, not just on MAX flights.

American Airlines, for example, had most of its 24 MAX jets flying in and out of Miami, where load factors have been full during the Spring Break season.

“We can’t just cancel all of those flights, so the goal is to spread out the cancellations across our entire system to impact the least amount of customers,” American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said.

This means that an American Airlines flight from Miami to the Caribbean initially scheduled on a 737 MAX may now fly on a 737-800 with a similar seat configuration, while that 737-800 flight is canceled.

“It’s a challenge to explain to customers who weren’t previously booked on a MAX why their flight is canceled,” Feinstein said.

The 737 MAX jets were grounded last week following two fatal crashes in the past five months, the causes of which are under investigation.

Southwest, the largest MAX operator in the world with 34 jets representing about 5 percent of its total fleet, is canceling about 150 flights per day due to the grounding, but not all on MAX routes.

Steve West, Senior Director of Southwest’s Operations Control, said the company is trying to cancel flights five days in advance, while looking at issues such as weather, that could free up jets, like last week’s snowstorm in Colorado.

Southwest and American were already grappling with a larger than the normal number of out-of-service aircraft, further straining their fleets.

So far United Airlines, with 14 MAX aircraft, has not canceled any flights due to the grounding but has had to put smaller aircraft on some routes and fly the larger 777 to places like Hawaii.

It is unclear how long the grounding will last. Deliveries are also on hold, meaning an additional hit to airlines due to receive more of the jets this year.

Boeing has over 5,000 orders for the MAX, which sold fast thanks to its higher fuel-efficiency and longer range. Now airlines face a dent to 2019 profits.

Calgary-based WestJet said it took steps prior to the MAX grounding to start protecting trans-border flights to sunny destinations that were previously scheduled to fly with the carrier’s 13 MAX planes.

Meanwhile, Air Canada said on Tuesday it would remove its 24 737 MAX aircraft from its schedule until at least July 1, 2019.

“It is easier to put the aircraft back in the schedule than to pull it out,” said a source familiar with the carrier’s thinking, who is not allowed to publicly discuss its strategy.

 

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Southwest cancels more U.S. flights as it inspects engines

Emergency personnel monitor the damaged engine of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, which diverted to Philadelphia International Airport after the engine blew apart and shattered a window, killing one passenger, on a runway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Southwest Airlines canceled more flights on Monday as it worked to complete inspections of engines like the one that failed last week in a deadly accident over Pennsylvania.

Flightaware.com, a website that tracks aviation cancellations, said Southwest canceled 129 flights on Monday, or 3 percent of its total flights, and delayed 468 other flights, or 11 percent. By contrast, other major U.S. carriers had each canceled four or fewer flights on Monday, the website said.

Southwest said the cancellations were the result of the company’s announcement last Tuesday that it would begin voluntarily stepping up inspections of some CFM56-7B engines over the next 30 days. The airline said on Sunday it canceled about 40 flights.

It said on Monday it anticipated “minimal delays or cancellations each day due to the inspections.”

The company added it “will continue our work to minimize flight disruptions by performing inspections overnight while aircraft are not flying, and utilizing spare aircraft, when available.”

Late on Monday, Representative Bill Shuster, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, introduced an amendment to a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration that would require regulators to ensure airline engine safety and report to Congress.

The measure would bring airlines, manufacturers, regulators and others “together to share best practices and implement actions to address airline engine safety” and require a review of regulations, guidance, and directives related to airline engine operation. The House is expected to vote on a bill to reauthorize the FAA later this week.

The FAA and European regulators on Friday ordered emergency inspections within 20 days of nearly 700 aircraft engines similar to the one involved in the fatal Southwest engine blowout.

Southwest said the cancellations were not a result of the emergency directive.

The engine explosion on Southwest flight 1380 on Tuesday was caused by a fan blade that broke off, the FAA said. The blast shattered a window, killing a passenger, in the first U.S. airline passenger fatality since 2009. Southwest has declined to answer questions about its CFM56-7B inspection program, including how many engines were inspected before the accident, and if the engine that failed had been inspected and if the new inspections turned up any problems.

A Southwest flight in August 2016 made a safe emergency landing in Florida, after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine and debris ripped a hole above the left wing prompting two service bulletins from engine manufacturer CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and France’s Safran .

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

FAA to order inspections of jet engines after Southwest blast

U.S. NTSB investigators are on scene examining damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane in this image released from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 17, 2018. NTSB/Handout via REUTERS

By Alwyn Scott and Alana Wise

(Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it will order inspection of about 220 aircraft engines as investigators have found that a broken fan blade touched off an engine explosion this week on a Southwest flight, killing a passenger.

The regulator said late on Wednesday it plans to finalize the air-worthiness directive within the next two weeks. The order, which it initially proposed in August following an incident in 2016, will require ultrasonic inspection within the next six months of the fan blades on all CFM56-7B engines that have accrued a certain number of takeoffs.

Airlines said that because fan blades may have been repaired and moved to other engines, the order would affect far more than 220 of the CFM56-7Bs, which are made by a partnership of France’s Safran <SAF.PA> and General Electric <GE.N>.

The CFM56 engine on Southwest <LUV.N> flight 1380 blew apart over Pennsylvania on Tuesday, about 20 minutes after the Dallas-bound flight left New York’s LaGuardia Airport with 149 people on board. The explosion sent shrapnel ripping into the fuselage of the Boeing 737-700 plane and shattered a window.

Bank executive Jennifer Riordan, 43, was killed when she was partially pulled through a gaping hole next to her seat as the cabin suffered rapid decompression. Fellow passengers were able to pull her back inside but she died of her injuries.

On Wednesday, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the incident began when one of the engine’s 24 fan blades snapped off from its hub. Investigators found that the blade had suffered metal fatigue at the point of the break.

Sumwalt said he could not yet say if the incident, the first deadly airline accident in the United States since 2009, pointed to a fleet-wide problem in the Boeing 737-700.

Southwest crews were inspecting similar engines the airline had in service, focusing on the 400 to 600 oldest of the CFM56 engines, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. It was the second time this kind of engine had failed on a Southwest jet in the past two years, prompting airlines around the world to step up inspections.

A NTSB inspection crew was also combing over the Boeing <BA.N> 737-700 for signs of what caused the engine to explode.

Sumwalt said the fan blade, after suffering metal fatigue where it attached to the engine hub, has a second fracture about halfway along its length. Pieces of the plane were found in rural Pennsylvania by investigators who tracked them on radar. The metal fatigue would not have been observable by looking at the engine from the outside, Sumwalt said.

Passengers described scenes of panic as a piece of shrapnel from the engine shattered a plane window, almost sucking Riordan out.

Riordan was a Wells Fargo <WFC.N> banking executive and well-known community volunteer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the company said.

Videos posted on social media showed passengers grabbing for oxygen masks and screaming as the plane, piloted by Tammie Jo Shults, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot, prepared for the descent into Philadelphia.

The airline expected to wrap up its inspection of the engines it was targeting in about 30 days.

The GE-Safran partnership that built the engine said it was sending about 40 technicians to help with Southwest’s inspections.

Pieces of the engine including its cowling – which covers its inner workings – were found about 60 miles (100 km) from Philadelphia airport, Sumwalt said. The investigation could take 12 to 15 months to complete.

In August 2016, a Southwest flight made a safe emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine and debris ripped a hole above the left wing. That incident prompted the FAA to propose last year that similar fan blades undergo ultrasonic inspections and be replaced if they failed.

(editing by David Stamp)