The 737 MAX, the updated version of Boeing’s workhorse 737 that has been grounded since March 2019, is back in the news lately. The aircraft in the process of being re-certified and may be back in service sooner than rather than later. We know a lot about what went wrong with the 737 MAX technically, and we’ve heard extensively about what went wrong in the processes and safety culture at Boeing and the FAA. But the answer to the big question remains less clear: when will the 737 MAX be back and flying for airlines?

A complicated process

The reason it’s unclear is that aside from US regulators evaluating Boeing’s fixes to the systems on the MAX, regulators in other parts of the world also want to sign off on the plane independently. And even as those test flights are happening, damaging information continues to come out about the aircraft and will no doubt have much of the flying public wondering: do we really want this plane back in service at all? Take just the news from last week with Congress issuing a scathing report on the failings at Boeing, or even this smaller but no less troubling piece.

As a result Boeing has a multi-front battle to wage. The first is to convince regulators around the world that the plane is now safe and deserves to fly again. The second is to convince airlines, many of which feel they have too many planes and not enough passengers, that they should continue to take delivery of the 737 MAX as planned. And the third is to convince the public that there is no longer anything to worry about.

That’s to say nothing of the massive logistical effort required, once the plane is given the all-clear, to bring hundreds of mothballed 737 MAX back online, ready to fly and into the hands of airlines – a process that will be anything but quick.

American Airlines 737 MAX Boeing grounded safety
Grounded 737 MAX aircraft at Seattle’s Boeing Field (BFI)

All eyes on early 2021

Most in the industry seem to concur that the MAX is likely to be flying with airlines again from some time early next year. However any number of things could get in the way of that and the timeline has been pushed back before. For now the NTSB has given the nod to the fixes made to the MAX, an important step in the US. And European regulators have completed a series of test flights with the plane. The FAA and others are now conducting a training review at London Gatwick Airport (LGW) as we speak.

Though the future remains uncertain, one thing we can do at this point is look at when airlines currently have the MAX slotted back into their schedules. If for no other reason, it’s interesting to see how conservatively (or not) various airlines are approaching this in terms of their forward planning. Here are a few examples:

  • American Airlines has the 737 MAX in schedules from November 4, on a handful of routes out of Miami (MIA). This is unlikely to actually happen and we should expect that to change at some point soon.
  • Flydubai has slated the 737 MAX for a return March 29, 2021. They plan to run the plane initially on flights to Almaty (ALA) and Bishkek (FRU).
  • Air Canada appears to have its first 737 MAX scheduled for June 3, 2021 on Montreal – Dublin and Toronto (YYZ) to Edinburgh (EDI) from June 4.

Have you spotted the MAX in any other airlines’ schedules? Let us know on Twitter if so. To stay on top of the important 737 MAX developments as they happen, check out our 737 MAX page. For further reading, the Seattle Times has comprehensive coverage. And of course, whenever the MAX makes any significant moves we’ll have the information here.

Gabriel Leigh grew up on long-haul flights and has been fascinated by airplanes since he can remember. Now based in Sweden, he writes about transport, travel and more for publications like The New York Times, Monocle and Forbes.