American, Delta, Southwest bear brunt of government shutdown

Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Since the partial US government shutdown began on December 22, 2018, most of the attention regarding the aviation sector has been focused on federal employees, including air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents. But the turmoil is not all about keeping airports and flights safe and operational. As the shutdown drags on, major US carriers are bearing the brunt of it too. Or rather, stalling.

The distressing warnings and loose projections on the impact of the government shutdown on the U.S. airline industry’s growth have been heard far and wide. The situation on the ground, however, is this: since many Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials have been furloughed, some of US airlines’ plans on new routes, such as Southwest’s new service to Hawaii, as well as brand-new planes, like the introduction of Boeing 737 MAXs, have been put on hold, delaying commercial operations.

American Airlines

Big bird American Airlines has recently taken delivery of two new Boeing 737 MAX 8s out of the total 16 scheduled for delivery in 2018. The planes, registered as N350RV andN341RW, arrived at American’s maintenance base at Tulsa International Airport (TUL), Oklahoma, on December 26 and 31 respectively. They are still unable to fly.

“We have taken delivery of two MAX 8 aircraft since the shutdown began. Both planes are in Tulsa awaiting FAA approvals required before operating in commercial service,”American Airlines confirmed to AeroTime, adding, “We continue to monitor the situation, and are closely working with our federal government partners.”

To date, a total of 20 MAX 8s have been delivered to American and it is set to receive another 20 this year, as part of 2013 order for 100 of the MAX family jets. The airline says it does not expect the certification delay of its two new 737s to have any impact on its flight schedule or customers, Reuters reports. The top US carrier operates a massive mainline fleet of 954 aircraft.

United Airlines

United is also left hanging with one Boeing 737 MAX 9 that it is unable to debut to the public, Reuters indicates. United has a total of 136 MAX family planes (models 9 and 10 ) on order. Having taken delivery of its first MAX in April 2018, the carrier said it expected to have 10 737 MAX aircraft in its fleet by the end of last year. Since it last took delivery of a MAX 9 (N27509) on November 29, there has been no information on the delivery of the 10th plane. The carrier operates at least 770 mainline aircraft.

Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines is also awaiting FAA certification of new aircraft, although the carrier has not disclosed much on the topic. According to CNBC, the US no. 2 airline had scheduled a January 31, 2019, launch of its brand-new Airbus A220 and is now probably biting nails to see the FAA’s services restored as soon as possible. So far, the carrier has taken delivery of four A220-100s, the first one (N101DU) just at the end of October 2018.

Delta had in fact provided a lifeline for the rather slow-selling A220 when it placed an order for 40 A220-100 jets back in 2016 (at the time, they were still Bombardier C Series). With this, it became the first U.S. airline to take delivery of an Airbus A220. Most recently, on January 9, 2019, Delta announced extending Airbus order with 15 more aircraft, opting for the larger variant, and converting some of the previously ordered jets to A220-300. The order now stands at 90 A220 aircraft.

Southwest expansion to Hawaii

The low-cost carrier Southwest is awaiting FAA’s approval to begin its much boasted about service to Hawaii. Having first announced the route in October 2017, the airline is believed to be at the final stages of receiving ETOPS certification.

At the beginning of the month the airline management was reportedly expecting to complete the certification by the end of January 2019, Beat of Hawaii reported. However, now it appears that authorities that oversee ETOPS authorizations are absent due to government shutdown.

This should certainly come as a setback for Southwest, who has jumped in on the wave and launching new services to the islands of Hawaii. Last December, Alaska Airlines began nonstop service between Sacramento, California, to the Island of Hawaii.