Analysts estimate it will take at least 45 days to return the grounded Boeing 737 MAX to commercial service after securing regulatory approval, pushing the first commercial flights into next year. File photo.

Boeing 737 MAX jets may not return to commercial service until next year, due to needed software updates for the flight-control system and time needed to prepare the grounded planes for flight, China Daily reported.

Boeing and airlines flying the MAX had hoped to return the planes to service this year, but continued disagreements about the extent of needed upgrades and time needed to secure regulatory approval appear to make a quick return unlikely.

In a statement issued this week, Boeing said: “We deeply regret the impact the 737 MAX grounding is having on our customers and their passengers. Boeing is working very closely with the FAA on the process they have laid out to certify the 737 MAX software update and safely return the MAX to service. We will submit the final software package to the FAA once we have satisfied all their certification requirements. We will not comment on media speculation on that schedule.”

Boeing “was not transparent or accountable in the self-certification process for the plane,” James Hall, managing partner of Hall & Associates in Washington and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told China Daily.

“At present, it’s hard to see an end to this story,” he said. “There are congressional hearings, civil and criminal investigations, and lawsuits from family members who lost loved ones. This has damaged the reputations of Boeing and the FAA around the world.”

Major airlines have pulled the MAX jets from scheduled flights until November. Analysts estimate it will take at least 45 days to return the grounded aircraft to commercial service after securing regulatory approval, pushing the first commercial flights into next year.

The Fraud Division of the US Justice Department has begun a criminal investigation into the development and certification of the MAX jet. The FAA routinely delegates much of its aircraft certification to approved manufacturers through a congressionally authorized program. Hall and other critics have argued that is a mistake and have called for the regulations to be rewritten.

Testifying before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the FAA’s 2020 budget, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said: “The FAA does not build planes. They certify. But this method of having the manufacturer also be involved in looking at these standards is really necessary because once again the FAA cannot do it on their own.”

Boeing MAX jets were grounded worldwide following crashes March 10 in Ethiopia and Oct 29, 2018, in Indonesia that killed a total of 346 passengers and crew.

Preliminary investigations suggest the aircraft’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), an automated anti-stall device, forced the noses of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights down and into a fatal plunge when it erroneously determined the planes were about to stall. To avoid a stall, MCAS points the nose of the plane down to gain air speed.

Meanwhile, a father whose five family members, including three children, died when a Boeing 737 Max jet crashed in Ethiopia in March, accused the company of “utter prejudice and disrespect” and warned there would be more deaths unless action is taken, The Guardian reported.

At a congressional hearing in Washington, Paul Njoroge said Boeing’s focus on share price and profits “at the expense of the safety of human life” and its cosy relationship with its US regulator, the FAA, had led to the two crashes and cost him his family.

In prepared notes, Njoroge wrote: “I miss their laughter, their playfulness, their touch. I am empty. I feel that I should have been on that plane with them. My life has no meaning. It is difficult for me to think of anything else but the horror they must have felt. I cannot get it out of my mind.”

Unless Boeing’s conduct is addressed “another plane will dive to the ground killing me, you,” Njoroge told Congress.

“I speak for all of the families who lost loved ones whom they will never see again and who were tragically torn from their lives because of reckless conduct on the part of so many. Particularly Boeing, a company who became steadfast in its single-minded quest to place blame on so-called ‘foreign pilots’.”

In an interview, Njoroge went even further, saying he believes Boeing should scrap the 737 Max. He also wants the company’s top executives to resign and face criminal charges for not grounding the plane after a deadly accident last October.

In a bid to counter the worldwide negative publicity, Boeing’s high-profile PR group said on Wednesday it will dedicate half of a US$100 million fund to provide payments to families of those killed, with compensation expert Ken Feinberg hired by the world’s largest plane maker to oversee the distribution.

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