The FAA and Boeing have not given a timeline for the 737 Max's return as a software upgrade awaits approval before the plane can fly again.
- Boeing's 737 Max jet could stay grounded significantly longer than expected after two fatal crashes.
- A US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official said Wednesday that the plane will be back in the air by December.
- Other airline industry figures had suggested the plane could return to the skies this summer. A longer delay would be another blow to Boeing, which is having its worst year in decades.
- The FAA needs to approve a software update before the 737 Max can fly again. In the meantime, airlines are demanding compensation and investigations loom over Boeing and the FAA.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) indicated Wednesday that Boeing's 737 Max planes, which have been grounded around the world since March, could be out of action for even longer than expected.
Ali Bahrami, the FAA's associate administrator for aviation safety, said at a speech in Cologne, Germany, that the plane will likely be airborne again by December.
He was speaking at at a safety conference held by the FAA and Europe's EASA regulator.
He said that the FAA is under a lot "lot of pressure" and that the plane will return to the skies "when we believe it is safe," Bloomberg reported.
The question of when the Max may return has proved a vexed one since its grounding after two fatal crashes.
After the planes were taken out of the skies, Boeing began work on a software update which it says will make them safe again.
The update has been submitted to the FAA, which must approve it before the plane can re-enter service. Other global regulators would then decide whether to follow suit.
The FAA has said that it does not have a timeline for when the plane will return.
But Bahrami's comment suggests that the plane could be out of service for longer than the industry thought.
Airlines and industry groups have said they think the plane would return over or at the end of the summer.
The new suggested date of December is a significant step back from that.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general said in May that he thought the plane would not be back in the sky until August.
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary told CNBC in May that he expected the plane to be in the air in the US in June or July.
American Airlines has repeatedly cancelled flights which relied on the plane, most recently until September.
Boeing has declined to comment to Business Insider about when the 737 Max might return.
The planes were grounded in March, after a 737 Max operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed and killed all 157 people on board. It was the second 737 Max plane to crash, after a plane operated by Lion Air smashed into the sea off Indonesia in October 2018, killing its 189 occupants.
Airlines are seeking compensation from Boeing for having to ground the planes and cancel flights.
The FAA is under pressure to help the jets return to service while also working to preserve its reputation for safety, which has come under fire as people question how the 737 Max was certified to fly.
EASA and other regulators also say that they want to do their own checks, and have their own requirements for when the plane returns. This could mean it starts to fly in some parts of the world before others.
Both the FAA and Boeing face a number of investigations into how the plane was able to take to the skies, including federal investigations that could change how the FAA certifies aircraft.