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American Airlines Eyes Dec. 29 Takeoff for Boeing 737 MAX

The airline plans to return passenger flights on the grounded aircraft in phases, while United Airlines, Southwest have no plans yet to use the aircraft this year.
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American Airlines Group  (AAL) - Get American Airlines Group, Inc. Report plans to let customers take trips on its Boeing  (BA) - Get Boeing Company Report 737 MAX jets as early as this year -- more than 18 months after the grounding of the new jets.

If Boeing gets all needed federal approvals as planned, the airline will begin passenger flights on the MAX jets just days after Christmas, American said in a statement issued over the weekend and obtained by TheStreet. Customers will be able to book flights on the aircraft as early Oct. 24. 

"Based on the current plan, flights beginning Dec. 29 will be the first flights for paying customers," an American Airlines spokeswoman separately told TheStreet on Sunday.

The Boeing jets -- which have been grounded since March 2019 following two fatal accidents -- could win recertification from the FAA as early as November, according to a Reuters report. But officials told the news service on Sunday it “will lift the grounding order only after FAA safety experts are satisfied that the aircraft meets certification standards.”

An FAA spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions from TheStreet on Sunday.

Another major U.S. carrier, United Airlines  (UAL) - Get United Airlines Holdings, Inc. Report, told TheStreet on Sunday it has no set plans yet for resuming flights with its fleet of 14 MAX jets. 

"We don't know the exact date the MAX will be recertified," company spokesman Frank Benenati said in an email. "And at this point, we don't have them in the schedule this year, so likely sometime next year based on the schedule we hear from the FAA and Boeing."

Another major carrier, Southwest  (LUV) - Get Southwest Airlines Co. Report told TheStreet it is also looking to next year, by as early as the first quarter, to begin flights on its MAX jets.

"We are hopeful to return the MAX to service in the first quarter of 2021, but of course, timing is dependent upon FAA certification," said Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz.

At time of the grounding in March 2019, the airline had 34 MAX jets in operation, said Mainz, but according to Southwest's most recently earnings report, it returned five leased 737-700 aircraft during second quarter 2020. According to "current planning assumptions," Southwest expects to purchase no more than 48 MAX aircraft total through Dec. 31, 2021. By the end of 2026, it could make an additional 217 "firm orders" and 115 options for MAX aircraft in its order book. Those numbers will likely be updated when Southwest updates its earnings on Thursday.

Delta  (DAL) - Get Delta Air Lines, Inc. Report has no 737 MAX on its fleet and in an email to TheStreet on Sunday did not indicate plans to change its plans.

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American Airlines said it will begin its planned flights of the jets in phases, starting with one daily 737 MAX flight that will operate through Jan. 4. American cautioned that the return-to-service plan will "remain highly dependent" on the Federal Aviation Administration's recertification process.

“We remain in contact with the FAA and Boeing on the certification process and we’ll continue to update our plans based on when the aircraft is certified," said the American Airlines statement. "To ensure American is ready to fly the 737 MAX once the aircraft is certified, our crew members must be able to bid their schedules for this line of flying," said American.

When reached Sunday by TheStreet, a Boeing spokeswoman declined to comment on the news, and directed any questions around the recertification process to the FAA.

American Airlines said it plans to fly MAX jets prior to the Dec. 29 date without passengers and that customers will be told they are booking on the 737 MAX jets. 

American has a fleet of 24 737 MAX aircraft, which currently is held in a maintenance facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The airline has an 76 additional jets on order from Boeing and has "agreements" for 32 spare engines to be delivered in this year and beyond.

The flights would be the first with the airline since the FAA ordered all U.S.-registered Boeing 737 MAX aircraft grounded following two fatal crashes. A Boeing 737 MAX Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed in March 2019, killing all on board, just months after 157 passengers and crew were killed in October 2018 when a Lion Air flight crashed over Indonesia.

But Boeing appears closer to getting more widespread confidence in its jets, as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency on Friday reportedly decided the 737 MAX was safe to fly

American Airlines Group closed Friday trading on the Nasdaq up to $12.46, but declined by about a eight cents after hours. Boeing closed up on the New York Stock Exchange Friday to $167.35, but also declined, by around 60 cents, after hours.

American is expected to host its earnings call on Thursday and Boeing's is expected Oct. 28.

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This story has been updated with additional comments and information.