United Airlines CEO on Boeing 737 Max Returns: & # 39; Nobody Knows & # 39;

A United Airlines flight takes off at San Francisco International Airport.

Gary Hershorn | Corbis News | Getty Images

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said Wednesday that a firm timeline for the return of the Boeing 737 Max, founded since March after two fatal crashes, is still unknown.

"Nobody knows," Munoz said in an interview with CNBC's "Squawk Box." "We've been doing this for seven months. The important part is that it will be returned safely."

United, which had 1[ads1]4 of its planes in its ground support fleet, last week joined the US and the Southwest to withdraw the aircraft from the January planes carried by the ground support.

In mid-March, aviation regulators around the world ordered airlines to stop flying the Boeing 737 Max after one operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 on board. It was less than five months after a Lion Air 737 Max crashed at a similar point of flight in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on the plane.

Boeing is rushing to complete a software solution and new training material, but it has not yet delivered it to the regulators, and doubts when the planes will fly again. Boeing has repeatedly said it expects regulators to consider the aircraft as airworthy in the fourth quarter.

But airlines have canceled thousands of flights without a clear timeline, so they are not stuck paying for passengers' flight change or change of crew at the last minute.

"Sure it hurts," Munoz said of the grounding. "So we're awaiting the FAA and regulators to do their thing."

United reported better-than-expected third quarter earnings and lifted its full-year earnings forecast after the market closed Tuesday afternoon.

Southwest's pilot union this week said they did not expect the planes to return until at least February. Although regulators approve the aircraft to carry passengers again, airlines need at least a month to get jets out of storage, perform maintenance and train thousands of pilots on the new systems on board.

Delays increase pressure on Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg. The company's board replaced Muilenburg as chairman last week, saying the separation of roles will help him focus on getting the 737 Max back into service.

Muilenburg is scheduled to testify in front of a women's transport panel on October 30 about the siege aircraft's design and certification.

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