Southwest, the biggest user of Boeing's 737 MAX 8, will keep using the aircraft
Countries and airlines around the world have grounded Boeing's 737 MAX 8 aircraft following the second crash in less than a year, but local flights are still expected to remain on the schedule.
The MAX 8 has been in operation for about a year. Southwest Airlines is its biggest customer, with 34 of the airplanes. The company regularly uses the MAX 8 variant for flights to and from Oklahoma City. Over the past month, 37 flights landed at or took off from Will Rogers World Airport.
Southwest issued a statement Tuesday as more than 100 MAX 8s sat idle at airports around the globe. China and India banned all flights, along with the entirety of the European Union.
"As the investigation of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 progresses, we are staying in close contact with Boeing, the (Federal Aviation Administration), and other airlines to learn the cause of the accident," Southwest Airlines spokesman Brian Parrish said. "We operate 34 MAX 8 aircraft in our fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737s. We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of the MAX 8. We don’t have any changes planned to our MAX 8 operations."
However, at least one MAX 8 flight scheduled for arrival Thursday in Oklahoma City was changed so that the aircraft would be its predecessor, a 737-800. Southwest didn't specify why the change was made, but said the company "can often swap to another aircraft based on a variety of situations and needs." They won't offer refunds, but will work with customers individually who want to re-book on another aircraft type.
"We don’t charge change fees, and any fare differences that would normally be charged would be waived in this situation," the company said.
American Airlines also operates the MAX 8, but no flights are scheduled in or out of Oklahoma over the next week. In an email, American Airlines said it also had confidence in the aircraft.
Boeing introduced the MAX 8 variant of the 737 to compete with other manufacturers racing to build a more efficient aircraft. The New York Times reported last month that Boeing and the FAA decided against telling pilots about how software for the 737's flight control system had been changed, which could present an unfamiliar situation for pilots.
Boeing said Tuesday that it has full confidence in safety of the 737 MAX.
"We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets," the company said in an unsigned statement. "We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets. The United States Federal Aviation Administration is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators."