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28 January 2020 | Blog

Boeing 737 MAX grounding: How should airlines deal with ongoing uncertainty

Airlines around the world continue to be disrupted by the grounding of the new Boeing 737 MAX fleet, with thousands of flights cancelled, rescheduled or moved to alternative aircraft.

With no end to the grounding in sight, we are being asked by more of our customers how their operations teams can best deal with the fallout of the crisis to protect their airline’s performance and reputation while providing passengers with the certainty they demand.

What’s the latest?

In December 2019, Boeing announced it would temporarily halt production of the 737 MAX in January as it continued to work towards returning the model to service. The aircraft was originally grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in March 2019 following two crashes that killed 346 people and Boeing had repeatedly assured airlines it would be recertified to fly by the fourth quarter of 2019. However, that deadline passed with the 737 MAX fleet still grounded.

Steve Dickson, the FAA’s new administrator, recently told his aviation investigators to “take the time they need to get this right”, suggesting the aircraft’s return could be pushed back deeper into 2020.

In January, a further safety review related to the layout of wiring in the tail section of the plane was reported for the first time.

Standard protocol for aviation regulators is to accept the decision of the authority in which a manufacturer is based – in this case the FAA. But this will not be followed with the 737 MAX, as the European Aviation Safety Agency has confirmed it will not accept a decision from the US and will instead run its own tests before permitting the aircraft to fly again in Europe. This could further delay and complicate the return of the 737 MAX to full operation.

How are airline operations being affected?

Many airlines plan routes and schedules more than a year in advance. The unforeseen grounding of the 737 MAX series has left some of the world’s largest carriers unable to use a sizeable portion of their fleet, affecting their ability to fulfil their timetables and forcing them to utilise alternative planes with different capacities, formations and facilities to those originally planned with the MAX.

Recent examples of airlines being impacted by the MAX grounding include:

  • American Airlines has removed MAXs from its flight schedule until 7th April 2020, having previously aimed to return the aircraft to service in early March.
  • Southwest Airlines has revealed operating profits were $828 million lower in 2019 than they would have been, had the 737 MAX been operational.
  • Norwegian blamed the issue for cutting six routes between Ireland and the US in 2019.
  • Ryanair, which was meant to have taken delivery of 58 of the jets by this summer, now believes it may only receive its first 737 MAX in October.

How best-in-class airlines deal with scheduled disruption

The grounding of the 737 MAX series has created a significant challenge for operations teams already tasked with cutting the cost of disruption. Instead, for many, costs have risen as management have no choice but to use their teams to communicate news of schedule changes to passengers. Following the grounding, airlines have had to communicate a variety of changes to passengers, such as flight cancellations, termination of routes, rescheduling, and reaccommodation.

When completed manually, these processes consume vast resources; both in staff and infrastructure costs and time that could otherwise be used on passenger-focused or revenue-generating tasks.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

At 15below, we help airlines communicate all of the necessary information quickly and efficiently through automation. The 15below platform sorts, filters and processes PNRs, then sends a range of personalised notifications via multiple channels. This level of automation allows airlines to quickly and accurately identify passengers affected by the 737 MAX crisis and notify them with plenty of time and just the right amount of choice to empower without overwhelming. All with almost zero human input.

US airline jetBlue is one carrier that already uses automation to great effect, successfully completing 78% of schedule changes in a matter of minutes via the 15below platform.


Read more about our Disruption and Queue Manager solutions or contact us to find out how automation could help your business process scheduled disruption quickly, easily and reliably.