The UK’s biggest operator of the Boeing 737 Max may change the name of the aircraft before it returns to service.
Tui Airways flew the plane, mainly from Manchester, until regulators grounded the aircraft in March.
The move followed two fatal accidents that claimed a total of 346 lives.
In both the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, and the Ethiopian Airlines accident shortly after take off from Addis Ababa, an anti-stall system known as MCAS was blamed.
When it became clear that the two tragedies were linked, all Boeing 737 Max jets were grounded.
The planemaker has been making modifications, but there is still no timetable for a return to service.
Dawn Wilson, managing director of Tui Airways, told the Airlines 2050 conference in London that it was uncertain whether or not the Max name would be retained.
“We haven’t taken a decision on that at the moment,” she said. “We’re still working through how we’re going to return these aircraft into service.”
According to the original delivery schedule, Tui Airways should be flying 23 of the aircraft from its bases across Europe, with nine of them stationed in the UK.
Ms Wilson said: “We won’t fly that aircraft unless it is safe to do so.
“The consumer I think in the beginning will be confused, because they’re already quite confused between the 737 NG [next generation] and the Max.”
A distinguishing feature of the Max is the “double-dagger” wingtips – but these are already fitted to some later 737 NG aircraft flown by Tui Airways.
“We’ve got to really work with the industry, and the regulators and the manufacturer to get some really clear communications out there about what has happened in the intervening period and what has changed.”
In both the fatal accidents, the MCAS forced down the nose of the aircraft in response to a single reading from a faulty “angle of attack” sensor. Pilots fought vainly to overcome the force applied by the the anti-stall system.
Boeing has modified the system so that “MCAS can never command more stabiliser input than can be counteracted by the flight crew pulling back on the column”.
The maker says: “Pilots will continue to always have the ability to override MCAS and manually control the airplane.”
Boeing had said it hoped the 737 Max would be back in commercial service by the end of this year, but most airlines are assuming it will start flying early in 2020.
Besides Tui Airways, Norwegian was previously operating the Max to and from the UK.
In June, British Airways’ parent company IAG signed a Letter of Intent (a non-binding order) for the aircraft, but in the accompanying press release no mention was made of the Max suffix.
Instead, the plane was described as the Boeing 737-8 and 737-10 – the two variants of the Max IAG wants to buy.
Ryanair was due to start flying the Boeing 737 Max from Stansted in May 2019, but has yet to receive any of the planes.
It has ordered a special high-density variant of the aircraft, known as the Max 200, with 197 seats.
In July, photographs taken at the Boeing factory at Renton, near Seattle, showed a new 737 aircraft in Ryanair colours with the word “Max” replaced by the number “8200”.
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