American Airlines is extending flight cancellations on its Boeing 737 Max jets through the Labor Day weekend, even though it says it’s confident the grounded planes will fly again soon.
In an update posted to its website Sunday morning, American said it’ll be forced to cancel 115 flights a day through Sept. 3. The Fort Worth-based carrier had previously pulled the Max from its flight schedule through Aug. 19.
“American Airlines remains confident that impending software updates to the Boeing 737 MAX, along with the new training elements Boeing is developing in coordination with our union partners, will lead to recertification of the aircraft soon,” the company said.
American said it is “pleased with the progress to date” of Boeing’s planned fix and remains in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation, National Transportation Safety Board and other regulators.
The extension is intended to give passengers more time to plan upcoming travel, American said.
“Our reservations and sales teams will continue to work closely with customers who are impacted by these cancellations,” according to the update.
The 737 Max aircraft have been grounded worldwide since March, following two deadly crashes involving the planes. American and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines are the U.S. carriers with the most Max planes in their fleets.
Southwest has canceled Max flights through Aug. 5. It has 34 of the aircraft in its fleet. American has 24 of the jets. United Airlines, which owns 14 Max planes, has canceled flights through Aug. 3.
On Friday, U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Rick Larsen of Washington disclosed that Boeing had planned to wait three years to fix a non-working safety alert on the planes and sped up the process only after the first crash in Indonesia.
The company acknowledged that it originally planned to fix a cockpit warning light in 2020. The feature, called an angle of attack alert, warns pilots when sensors measuring the up-or-down pitch of the plane’s nose relative to oncoming air might be wrong.
The sensors malfunctioned during a Lion Air flight in Indonesia in October and an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa in March, causing anti-stall software to push the planes’ noses down. Pilots were unable to regain control, and both planes crashed. In all, 346 people were killed.
It is not clear whether either crash could have been prevented if the cockpit alert had been working.
Based on a safety review, the company had originally planned to fix the cockpit warning when it began delivering a new, larger model of the Max to airlines in 2020, said Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
“We fell short in the implementation of the … alert and are taking steps to address these issues so they do not occur again,” Johndroe said.
Boeing delivered about 370 of the planes before they were grounded around the world in March.
Both Boeing and the head of the FAA say that the alert is not critical for safety. Boeing says all its planes, including the Max, give pilots all the flight information — including speed, altitude and engine performance — that they need to fly safely.
The pilots’ union at American Airlines expressed unhappiness about the matter, however, and said Boeing’s assurance about the cockpit alert was a factor in the union standing behind Boeing after the first Max crash, in October.
Jason Goldberg, an American Airlines pilot and union spokesman, said Boeing told pilots that the alert could pinpoint a faulty sensor even on the ground, before takeoff.
“That is one of the things that made us confident initially to make the statement that we were happy to continue to fly the aircraft,” he said. “It turned out later that that wasn’t true.”
Boeing admitted in May that within months of the plane’s 2017 debut, engineers realized that the sensor warning light only worked when paired with a separate, optional feature.
Boeing is revising its software, called MCAS, so that it will rely on readings from two sensors instead of one, and will be easier for pilots to overcome if it malfunctions. It is unclear when the FAA will approve the changes and allow the Max to fly again. Regulators in other countries could take longer.