The FAA says Boeing's troubled 737 Max may not fly again until December - far later than many expected

FILE PHOTO: An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, U.S. March 21, 2019.  REUTERS/Lindsey WassonAn aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in RentonReuters

  • 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 Europe 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.

Read more: As Boeing's problems mount, there's still no clear answer about when the 737 Max will return to the skies

The question of when the Max may return has proved a vexed one since its grounding after two fatal crashes.

Boeing 737 Max ethiopian airlines familyKenyans mourn family and friends, who were victims of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, at the crash scene in March.REUTERS/Baz Ratner

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.

Read more: Here are all the investigations and lawsuits that Boeing and the FAA are facing after the 737 Max crashes killed almost 350 people

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.

Boeing 737 Max Boeing FieldAn aerial photo shows Boeing airplanes, many of which are grounded 737 MAX aircraft, at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington.REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

American Airlines has repeatedly cancelled flights which relied on the plane, most recently until September.

Bloomberg reported in May that Boeing told Indian carrier SpiceJet, one of the biggest 737 Max buyers, that the aircraft would likely be flying again by July.

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.

Read more: Boeing's 737 Max 8 nightmare and troublesome politics threaten the US's standing as the global aviation leader

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.

Get the latest Boeing stock price here.

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