Southwest Ferrying 737 MAX Planes To Desert For Storage

Filed Under: Southwest

As probably everyone knows by now, the Boeing 737 MAX is grounded globally. There are several hundred of these that were in service prior to a couple of weeks ago. Slowly but surely virtually all relevant aviation authorities have demanded the plane be grounded.

Initially we were waiting for a software update before the planes would likely be cleared to fly again. At first I heard estimates that the 737 MAX wouldn’t be flying again until early May, and then I heard estimates suggesting it could be early April. But now there are much bigger questions about the overall certification of the 737 MAX, to the point that the FBI is involved as a criminal investigation.

Obviously grounding the 737 MAX is costly, and in some cases creates logistical challenges, given how overcrowded many airports are.

Up until now I haven’t heard much about airlines ferrying these planes elsewhere, though that’s now changing.

Today Southwest Airlines has started ferrying their Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to Victorville, California. For those of you not familiar with Victorville, it’s often known as an aircraft graveyard, where planes get demolished. However, I assume they’re not scrapping the 737 MAX planes for parts, but rather this suggests that Southwest expects to put these planes in long term storage.

Now, it’s anyone’s guess if Southwest actually knows a lot more than we do in terms of the timeline for when the plane will be flying again. There are several good reasons they could be doing this:

  • It’s cheaper just to park the planes in Victorville than at airports
  • It frees up space at airports that are otherwise congested
  • When a fix for the 737 MAX is completed, it will be easier to do everything in one place, and then send the planes to the hubs they need to be at to get back into service
  • Victorville has the right climate for storing planes

If you want to track Southwest’s flights to Victorville, they’re using sequential flight numbers in the 8700 series. So Southwest 8700 was the first plane to be ferried to Victorville earlier today from Phoenix, Southwest 8701 came from Dallas, Southwest 8702 is enroute from Indianapolis right now, etc.

For those wondering how these planes can fly given that they’re grounded, there is a special exception for these kinds of flights:

Special flight permits may be issued in accordance with 14 CPR. 21.197 and 21.199, including to allow non-passenger carrying flights, as needed, for purposes of flight to a base for storage, production flight testing, repairs, alterations, or maintenance.

As of now Southwest has 34 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, so you can expect that it will take a couple of days for all their planes to make it to Victorville.

Interestingly Southwest will apparently continue to accept 737 MAX deliveries from Boeing, and will just store them in Victorville. I’m curious about the full story for that, but I imagine they’re taking delivery of them in a way where the cost of any delays is on Boeing, rather than Southwest.

So if you’re at an airport and see a Southwest 737 MAX taking off today, now you know why…

I’ll be curious to see if other airlines implement a similar storage solution.

Comments

  1. Per Southwest..

    “The planes being in one place will be more efficient for performing the repetitive maintenance necessary for stationary aircraft, as well as any future software enhancements that need to take place,”

  2. @Lucky do you see this news as an indication of the 737 MAX having to experience a long term grounding? Thanks!

  3. Air Canada and other Canadian airlines have parked theirs at Windsor (YQG). Air Canada has confirmed grounding until July of their 24 MAX.

  4. I saw around six of the WN Max’s at PHX yesterday when flying out. All lined up in a remote area.

  5. @CA – When I was at Northwest Airlines, we used to joke that “When we retire our last 747 to Victorville (or Marana) we’ll send a DC-9 down to pickup the crew!”

    The DC-9 was a great plane. I miss it dearly.

  6. why not say “flying”?? I legit thought you meant they put planes on a boat….made no sense

  7. @ Joe @ schar — Because “ferrying” is the correct term for when aircraft are being shipped or conveyed from one location to another like this, versus when they are being operated under normal conditions.

  8. Flightstats is showing some of the Southwest 87** flights had delayed departure times. How long does it usually take to negotiate ‘danger money’?

  9. @sbams
    Just typing fast on my device so excuse the spelling. It seems the irony of your own post is lost on you. I post to correct Ben and then you post to correct me. Sounds like you need to get a life hahaha!

  10. My guess is they won’t fly again. The body is 50 years old from the Vietnam war era and placement of the wings cannot accomodate the bulky engines without pulling rhe plane backwards over.
    I don’t think there is a simple fix to placing the wings a meter more forward so bottomline the body needs to be redesigned, something no doubt should have been done from scratch, and would have been discovered had FAA not colluded with Boeing to allow the safety testing to be bypassed.

  11. @Ron, Forgive me, but are you an engineer, do you have any specialized training in aeronautics, or are you just talking out of your ass?

  12. @ John

    The ‘software patch’ is needed to keep the plane level, as the engine placement is pulling the plane backwards over. To prevent stalling, the software pushes the nose down.
    In simple words: software is needed to correct hardware issues, apparently the plane is unstable by itself.
    Of course I do not know what exactly the outcome of all the investigations is going to be, but we can safely assume that this time around FAA is going to err on the safe side.
    Furthermore, European and Canadian regulators who in the past followed FAA, no longer do so, but instead will test and certify the planes themselves. I have not heard what the Chinese will do but I would not be surprised they will also take a rigorous view.
    Add this all up and there is a very small chance that Boeing will get away with some minor software manipulation or adding some control lights, it is far more likely that a hardware correction is needed. Which is possible but takes time.
    However, I do not think that planes that have been delivered already can simply have their wings cut off and remounted a meter or 2 forward.
    Thus my conclusion the existing 737Max will not see the air again.

  13. How is this OK?

    I thought “grounded” means they stay on the ground.

    Flying them can risk a crash even with out paying passengers.

  14. I’m an aerodynamicist and am surprised that the MAX is designed as a negative dynamically stable aircraft, necessitating software intervention. There is no quick fix but I hope that this is resolved with emphasis on safety.

  15. @Eskimo @Kelcy

    Something to keep in mind is that while there is apparently a problem with the plane, the issue can be solved by the pilots if they recognize it and cut out the software, flying the plane manually.

    I’m sure all these pilots have been drilled extensively on the procedure, and not having passengers on board (no announcements, etc.) helps free them up to concentrate on recognizing the earliest symptoms of the problem and taking action quickly.

  16. I saw all of SQ/MI’s 737 Max’s parked up at Changi when I landed there at the weekend. Shame they don’t have anywhere dry to send them off to!

  17. @ron

    The 737MAX is not unstable in any way more than any other version of the 737. What this is about is a very specific flight attitude.

    First off all aircraft with under wing engine pitch up with increased power. The only exception are the most underpowered aircraft, the very first versions of the 737 from the late 60’s and early 70’s would be an example. In contrast all aircraft with rear engines, the DC9 derived aircraft, 727, DC-10, L1011 ect. Pitch down under power.

    The 737-800 and -900 pitch up more than the earlier 737 Classics because more powerful engines. The 737Max both with still more powerful engines and a slightly more forward placement has more tendency to pitch up. This does not effect the aircrafts stability under normal flight.

    During takeoff, thus under power, at the edge of the recommences flight envelope for take off an increase in power can cause the 737MAX to pitch up more than the aircrafts recomeded flight envelop nd this is when MCAS comes into play. Again it’s only when the Pilot is manually flying the plane but doing so near the edge of normal flight this is why this problem hasn’t surfaced often in the over 300,000 take off of the 737MAX aircrafts in the last two years.

    If you look at the video I posted above you’ll see the procedure every 737 pilot, not just MAX pilots, should know by memory to counter a runaway trim incident. It’s not just MCAS that can cause this but a faulty autopilot or other fault causing erroneous inputs to the motor that augments the stabilizer jack screw. The fix is to disengage that motor and manually adjust trim with the trim wheels.

    As a further example and this is not a dig at airbus aircraft, but all modern airbus aircraft are fly by wire and thus all pilot inputs are adjusted by a computer both setting limits on pilot control inputs and adjusting other in response to pilots inputs. This is a huge assistance in pilot work load, it also permits the side stick and thus tray tables for the pilots. Boeing has selected that traditional direct pilot control of fight control surfaces is preferable and with that augmented by automatic system, that can be disengaged, to reduce pilot work load.

    Again the MCAS only comes into effect under manual flight at the edge of the aircrafts normal flight specifications ie flying slower and/or at a steeper angle. The pitch down is to increase airspeed to prevent a stall. It is possible the automatic system due to a faulty instrument, pitot tube for airspeed or AOL instruments is a problem, this can also happen with the autopilot, it’s not just the autopilot but if a problem occurs in the trim switched on the yokes. this is why every pilot should know by memory how to disengage the system.

    The method that MCAS uses to effect trim is the same as every other system that automatically adjusts trim, it’s also trim switch on the yoke. Disengage the trim motor and trim manually using the trim wheels located at the pilots knees

  18. @ Ripley62

    Thanks for the explanation outlining how things were supposed to work. Obviously in 2 cases it didn’t work, and a few more ‘almost’ situations have been reported.
    That, combined to the rushed development to prevent AA from placing a sizeable order with Airbus, and the lack of independent certification leaves quite a few questions to be answered.

  19. Ben-

    I’m sitting on a 737 max at Phx about to take off to Burbank. Flight 1853. I guess the planes are not grounded.

  20. @ Craig — Are you on Southwest 1853? That seems to be a standard 737-800, not a 737 MAX 8, unless I’m missing something.

  21. @ron

    My point is that many comments are sounding like the aircraft is fundamentally flawed or unstable in flight and that is just simply not the case.

    For the two crashes. I for one would never have flown Lion Air unless it was the only method of transport available to a location. In June of 2018 they after a more than decade were permitted to fly in Euronean airspace they list that permission and had been repeatedly denied it due to in the EUASA deficient maintenance, safety and training procedures. The aircraft that crashed should have been grounded until maintenance determined why a aircraft performance measuring devices need to be replaced repeatedly on concececutive days. Instead they repeatedly followed the maintenance manual and replaced the part on the hull.

    Ethiopian is a good airline or at least I thought it was. There is no possibility that a 200 or 300 hour pilot should be in the FO position on any 737. I believe the EUASA e permits this, the FAA does not, but it’s no European has that few hours because the normal pattern is to work up to even a 737. The problem with this is the cockpit is suppose to be a team. In a difficult period one of the pilots devotes all of their attention and concentration to flying the plane, then the other has the ability to concentrate on why this situation is happening. A 300 hr, total airtime pilot, is no more than an assistant in that case and other than reading the manual no help. Quite clearly they did not remember what are basic item, as clearly shown in the video, should not need a written instructions card to do in the case of a malfunction.

    I’m not saying the Boring or 737MAX is blameless, the MCAS system it seem can only read from one airspeed indicator instead of four the aircraft has. The additional instruments should have been installed as AA did with the MAX’s they ordered. But fudemental aircraft is sound and doing a clean sheet of paper design entails a significantly larger level of risk since all of persmiters of flight are then unknown proven.

  22. “Looks like this is more challenging than maybe thought.”

    No sir, an engine issue is entirely unrelated to the problem encountered by Lion Air and (presumably) Ethiopian. The media is hyping this latest incident out of ignorance.

  23. The media is hyping the engine issue flight it out need for ratings not for informing the public.

  24. Thanks for pointing out a difference between the 737-800 and 737-800 MAX. Now, can anyone confirm that COPA airlines does NOT have any 737-800 MAX in their fleet (whether grounded or not)?

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