After a 20-month grounding by the Federal Aviation Administration in the US, the Boeing 737 Max is finally cleared to return to the skies and once again fly passengers.
Four US airlines currently fly variants of the 737 Max or plan to take delivery of their first models in 2021 including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines. The first flights begin at the end of December followed by a gradual ramp-up of operations by the four carriers in 2021.
Just 72 Boeing 737 Max aircraft were flying in the US before the March 2019 grounding, Cirium data shows, but Boeing didn't immediately stop building them, leaving many completed aircraft sitting idle. By the end of 2021, the Max will likely become more commonplace at airports across the US.
To the north, Canadian carriers WestJet and Air Canada will also resume Max flying once the country's aviation regulator, Transport Canada, clears the jet for passenger service. Authorization is expected to be "imminent," as The Canadian Press reported, and both carriers flew the Max to cities across the US before its grounding, though Canada remains largely closed to Americans due to the pandemic.
Brazil's Gol Linhas Aéreas will begin flying the Max on December 9, 2021, the airline announced on Monday, the earliest of any global airline, on domestic routes from Sao Paulo.
Here's where the Boeing 737 Max will be flying in the US as it returns to the skies.
American will be the first US airline to fly scheduled Max flights with a relaunch date of December 29, 2020. The Miami-New York route will be the first to see the aircraft with flight 718 between Miami International Airport and LaGuardia Airport performing the inaugural honors.
Miami will then see additional Max routes come January with American recently adding seven cities to the Max's destination list. Max service will quickly be expanding in the new year to Boston; Washington, DC; Orlando, Florida; Tampa, Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands; and St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, as well as New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, throughout January.
American currently operates 24 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, according to Cirium data, with another 76 on order with Boeing. In early December, employees of the airline and members of the media, including Business Insider's David Slotnick, were invited for demonstration flights onboard the aircraft in a push to shore up confidence in the jet ahead of its second commercial debut.
United has a scheduled return to service date for the Max of February 11, 2021, with the jets slated to fly 11 flights across five routes on their first day back. From Houston, the Max will fly to Los Angeles, Orlando, Tampa, and San Diego, while from Los Angeles, the jet will fly to Houston and Orlando.
The inaugural flight is scheduled as flight 2633 from Orlando International Airport to Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport at 7:05 a.m. and arriving at 8:21 a.m.
No other routes have been assigned to the aircraft yet but some routes that it flew before the March 2019 grounding included Houston-Anchorage, Los Angeles-Honolulu, and San Francisco-Orlando. The aircraft was primarily based in Los Angeles, Houston, and San Francisco, with a penchant for serving the longer routes in United's domestic network, including to the Hawaiian Islands.
United currently has 14 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft in its fleet, which it began flying before the March 2019 grounding, and also has orders for the larger 737 Max 10, Cirium data shows.
Alaska has a scheduled start date of March 1, 2021, for its long-delayed Boeing 737 Max operations, flying first between Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. The inaugural flight will depart Los Angeles as flight 1391 at 10:45 a.m. and arrive in Portland at 1:14 p.m., returning to Los Angeles at 2:10 p.m. and arriving at 4:34 p.m.
No other Max routes are currently loaded in Alaska's schedule, according to Cirium, but it's expected that the Max will fly Alaska's routes to Hawaii and transcontinental routes as that's where the cost savings will be the most pronounced.
Before it flies passengers, Alaska says it will perform proving flights on the routes the jet is expected to fly including to Alaska, Hawaii, and across the US, according to the airline's website. Over 50 hours across 19,000 miles are slated to be put on the aircraft by the airline before March 1.
Alaska did not operate or even take delivery of a Max aircraft before the March 2019 grounding. A February 2019 press release shows that the airline was planning to take delivery of its first Max 9 in the summer of that year but was ultimately unable to do so.
Despite having never so much as flown passengers on the plane, the Seattle-based airline just secured a lease for 13 additional models through Air Lease Corporation. In exchange, 10 of Alaska's Airbus A320 aircraft acquired in a merger with Virgin America were sold to ALC.
The new lease leaves Alaska with 45 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft currently on order, complementing its predominantly Boeing 737 Next Generation fleet.
Southwest has no current Max flights anywhere in its schedule, Cirium data shows, and CEO Gary Kelly says it won't be flying in the first quarter of 2021, but that doesn't mean it's not eager to get the Max flying. A Bloomberg report in November revealed that Southwest is in talks with Boeing to acquire up to 30 737 Max "white-tail" aircraft, the name given to planes that have been built but lost their original customer.
As Southwest operates an all-Boeing 737 fleet, incorporating the Max into daily flying after the FAA's required fixes are completed and pilots are trained on the aircraft won't be difficult at all.
A likely candidate for Max flying would be Southwest's routes between the mainland and Hawaii as the long overwater routes offer an opportunity for the Max to provide cost savings to the airline. Southwest had intended to use the Max on Hawaii flights but didn't get the chance before the March 2019 grounding.
Southwest currently has 34 Max aircraft in its fleet with orders for nearly 300 more, according to Cirium data.