Boeing is scheduled to report its quarterly earnings Jan. 29. Trading of the company’s stock was briefly halted Tuesday for the company’s announcement.
The company declined to be more specific about when it expected the Federal Aviation Administration to recertify the jets. Boeing had originally expected the Max to be cleared by U.S. regulators in December.
However, it said Tuesday, the new timeline, “accounts for the rigorous scrutiny that regulatory authorities are rightly applying at every step of their review of the 737 MAX’s flight control system and the Joint Operations Evaluation Board process which determines pilot training requirements.”
An FAA spokesman reiterated that the agency has no set timeline for certifying the jets.
“The agency is following a thorough, deliberate process to verify that all proposed modifications to the Boeing 737 Max meet the highest certification standards,” spokesman Lynn Lunsford said. “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. We have set no time frame for when the work will be completed.”
Tuesday’s announcement comes amid reports that regulators recently found a new software problem with the plane. The Associated Press reported that regulators discovered software designed to verify that monitors tracking key systems on the plane are working properly did not start correctly.
It also came on the same day the company’s new chief executive, David Calhoun, was in Washington State to meet with employees at facilities in Everett and Renton, where the 737 Max is built. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to lead a global all-employee webcast.
Calhoun, a longtime member of Boeing’s board of directors, replaced Dennis Muilenburger, who was fired last month.
The Max has been grounded since last March, following the fatal crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight. The March 10 calamity followed the October 2018 crash of a Lion Air flight off the coast of Indonesia. The two crashes killed a total of 346 people.
The extended grounding has taken a severe financial toll on Boeing, which halted production of the Max this month. CNBC reported that Boeing is in talks with banks to secure a loan of $10 billion or more.
The grounding also has impacted its suppliers.
Spirit AeroSystems, one of the largest parts suppliers for the 737 Max, announced Jan. 10, that it had sent layoff notices to roughly 2,000 employees at its Wichita plant.
Airlines have also had to cancel thousands of flights and remake their schedules. American, Southwest and United, previously announced they had removed the 737 Max from their schedules through early June. Tuesday’s announcement will likely force them to again change their schedules.
The company’s reputation has been badly damaged by the crisis as it faces allegations that it was not forthcoming with regulators about changes made to systems on the jetliner. Its image also has been tarnished by the release of internal communications, in which employees discussed efforts to manipulate regulators certifying the aircraft and mocking at least one airline that wanted its pilots to be trained in simulators before they flew the Max.
In the latest batch of emails released Jan. 9, one employee wrote in 2017, that the 737 Max was an airplane, “designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.”
In a 2018 exchange, employees voiced concerns over deficiencies with a Max simulator. “Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft?” one employee wrote, before adding: “I wouldn’t.”
Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, (D-Ore.) chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which is conducting its own investigation of Boeing’s and the FAA’s certification process, said the messages: “paint a deeply disturbing picture of the lengths Boeing was apparently willing to go to in order to evade scrutiny from regulators, flight crews, and the flying public, even as its own employees were sounding alarms internally.”
It was the second set of internal company communications to be released. In messages released in October, Boeing’s then-chief technical pilot wrote about “jedi-mind tricking” regulators into accepting the company’s recommendations on pilot training for aircraft.
Boeing also faces millions in potential penalties. The FAA announced this month it was fining Boeing $5.4 million after the company allegedly told the agency that defective wing parts on the Max were safe. The parts, called “slat tracks,” are used to guide parts of the wing that help the plane take off and land.
The company also continues to draw the ire of lawmakers. Earlier this month, some Democratic lawmakers angered by news that Calhoun was eligible to receive a $7 million bonus for reaching a number of milestones, including returning the 737 Max to service, demanded that the board rescind the bonus.
Lawmakers, including DeFaizo, have voiced concerns about the FAA’s process for certifying the aircraft, saying that it gives the manufacturer too much control., However, a report released last week, but an expert panel convened by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao defended the process that Boeing and the FAA followed in certifying the Max and dismissed criticism that the agency gives manufacturers too much authority to oversee their own work.