Boeing said Tuesday it now projects the 737 Max won't get Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) clearance to fly until mid-year, about three months further out than previously expected.
"We are currently estimating that the ungrounding of the 737 Max will begin during mid-2020," Boeing said in a statement, after it informed the FAA and airlines Tuesday morning. "We acknowledge and regret the continued difficulties that the grounding of the 737 Max has presented to our customers, our regulators, our suppliers, and the flying public."
Previously, the industry had anticipated the FAA completing its process by late March or early April. The expectation now is late June or July, according to a person with detailed knowledge of Boeing's latest projection. That would extend the grounding of the Max to at least 15 or 16 months.
An official with a U.S. airline cautioned that this time Boeing is being very conservative and that clearance for the Max to fly potentially "could come earlier."
The approximately three-month schedule slide likely means the shutdown of 737 Max production in Renton will also be extended. That will raise fears among employees that Boeing may be forced to lay off some workers.
However, Boeing said Tuesday that "today's announcement does not change employment plans previously shared with teammates in December."
Boeing said Renton employees are either preparing the 737 production lines for the future ramp-up or have moved to other programs and that such reassignments will continue.
American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United had anticipated further delay and were also allowing another month to six weeks after clearance to get their grounded Maxes ready and their pilots trained. So even with the previous expectation of clearance in April, all three had already removed the Max from their schedules until early June.
With Tuesday's announcement, those airlines must now plan on not having the airplane for almost the entire peak summer travel season.
All three U.S. airlines that have grounded Maxes report their fourth quarter earnings this week, and were unable to provide detailed responses ahead of that announcement.