Southwest extends 737 Max grounding until August

HARLINGEN — Southwest Airlines on Thursday again pushed back the anticipated return of its troubled Boeing 737 Max aircraft, this time extending the grounding from June to Aug. 10.

While the Max doesn’t normally fly into Valley International Airport, it was a key factor in its hub flights, and people with summer travel reservations with Southwest may be affected.

“By proactively removing the Max from scheduled service, we can reduce last-minute flight cancellations and unexpected disruptions to our customers’ travel plans,” the company said in a statement. “The limited number of customers who have already booked their travel and will be affected by our amended schedule will be notified of their re-accommodated travel according to our flexible accommodation procedures.

“The revision will proactively remove roughly 371 weekday flights from our schedule out of our total peak-day schedule of more than 4,000 daily flights,” the statement added.

Around a year ago, a 737 Max flown by Indonesia’s Lion Air crashed, killing 189 people. Investigators are focusing on the plane’s anti-stall software. A second crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max killed all 157 people on board.

The 189-passenger 737 Max is not a regular visitor to Valley International Airport, flying in occasionally as a replacement aircraft. But airport officials here are concerned that airlines with grounded 737 Maxes will continue to reassign replacement jets from other flights to make up shortfalls at their hub airports.

American Airlines also has removed its 24 Maxes from its schedule, as has United Airlines, which has 14 Maxes. Southwest has been the U.S.-based airline most heavily impacted, grounding its 34 Maxes.

Southwest’s statement Thursday said the airline intends to notify customers with summer flight reservations and offered a webpage where customers could identify the aircraft they will be flying.

Once the 737 Max is recertified as safe to fly by the Federal Aviation Administration, airlines flying the plane are expected to schedule several weeks of training in a simulator with the new flight software Boeing is expected to install.

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