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.