Boeing on Tuesday officially pushed back the timeframe for the 737 Max to return to the skies, sending shares plunging and overshadowing an earlier announcement of a first flight of the delayed 777X plane.
Boeing said it is now targeting the return of the grounded Max “during mid-2020”, the latest delay in the schedule for the troubled jet, which has been grounded since March following two deadly crashes.
Boeing has told customers and suppliers “that we are currently estimating that the ungrounding of the 737 Max will begin during mid-2020”, the company said in a statement.
That marked a shift from Boeing’s most recent stance on its top-selling aircraft when it eliminated a target date after repeatedly failing to keep to timetables last year.
But even the vague mid-2020 target is later than some analysts had expected and it probably represents a best-case scenario that could again be pushed back.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had publicly criticised Boeing for continually touting its aggressive timeframe in public for the Max’s return, suggesting the target was a tool for pressuring the agency into approving the plane more quickly.
On Tuesday, an FAA spokesman reiterated that it has set “no timeframe” for the Max’s certification.
“We continue to work with other safety regulators to review Boeing’s work as the company conducts the required safety assessments and addresses all issues that arise during testing,” the FAA said.
The Max statement overshadowed an earlier announcement that the 777X would undertake its first flight on Thursday, progress for a key wide-body jet that has itself been delayed for different reasons.
That trial run is scheduled for Thursday at 1800 GMT, although “flight testing is dynamic, and the date could change due to weather and other factors”, Boeing said.
The 777X flight initially had been planned for summer 2019 but was shifted back due to several issues, including with a new engine built by General Electric.
There have been 340 orders for the 777X, mostly from giants such as Emirates, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways. The plane is a rival option to the Airbus A350.
If all goes well with the first flight, Boeing will then submit documents to the FAA as part of the formal certification process, which includes a test flight.
Boeing is now pointing to early 2021 for first commercial deliveries of the plane, months later than the mid-2020 timeframe previously targeted.
Development of the long-range aircraft, which can carry between 384 and 426 passengers, hit a snag in September when the fuselage of the plane split during a stress test.