Fri, 22 Jan 2021

Executives from some of the world's largest airlines will gather for a private meeting Thursday in Canada to discuss Boeing's 737 Max at the same time global regulators convene in Texas to sort out what's needed to return the plane to service.

Carriers including American Airlines and United will join peers in Montreal for a gathering called by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Of IATA's 290 member airlines, 28 have the Max in their fleet, the trade group said. But whatever is meant to be gleaned from the Montreal huddle is so far staying just among the airlines, which have put up a shield wall to inquiries.

Airlines are grappling with how to address safety concerns with the Max after two fatal crashes killed nearly 350 people. The planes have been grounded worldwide since March, leaving airlines struggling to replace the lost capacity during the peak travel season.

"The meeting will provide a forum for airlines to exchange information about the experiences and challenges that they face as a result of the grounding and in their preparation for the reintroduction of the aircraft into operations," IATA said last week.

Meanwhile, the US Federal Aviation Administration has invited global regulators, including those of China, the European Union, Canada and Brazil, to a meeting Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas, for a joint review of steps needed to get the plane airborne again.

For airlines, successfully returning the planes to service will require assuring passengers that the reputation-scarred jetliner "is 100% safe", American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in an interview with NBC, to be aired Wednesday.

Max operators are also expected to seek compensation from Boeing due to the grounding. Air Canada and WestJet withdrew their 2019 financial guidance after losing use of the Max.

No comments

But carriers are mum on what they plan to discuss in Montreal.

American, which has 24 Max aircraft, has no plans to comment publicly on the meeting, a spokesperson said. Ditto for United, which is sending its vice president of flight operations and a safety executive. United has 14 Boeing Max 9s.

Southwest Airlines, which has the largest 737 Max fleet with 34, is also sending executives but didn't respond to requests for more details. WestJet Airlines, which is based in Calgary and has 13 Max aircraft, declined to discuss the meeting.

"Unfortunately I don't have any insight to share with you on anything organised by IATA and/or media access as this would be organised by their group," spokesperson Morgan Bell said Wednesday.

Air Canada, which has two dozen 737 Max, did not immediately comment.

The association declined to offer any details on how many carriers are attending, the location of the meeting in Montreal, or whether any US or Canadian government officials are invited.

IATA said it won't be offering any public comments on what was discussed at the gathering after it's over.

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