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Boeing won’t likely get the nod from the Federal Aviation Administration to return the 737 Max to service until January 2020 at the earliest, according to regulatory, customer and pilot stakeholder officials familiar with the process of returning the jet to service.

There remains a “slight and decreasing” chance, said one of the officials, that the FAA will clear the jet again for service by the end of December. There are still too many outstanding items yet to complete re-certification of the grounded jet for service first in the U.S., the officials said. The 737 Max has been grounded worldwide since March following two crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people.

Those tasks include the jet’s formal certification flight to validate changes to the flight control software, the FAA Flight Standardization Board report, and the Joint Operational Evaluation Board simulator trials to evaluate the revised training and procedures for the Max’s return. Both the FSB and the final airworthiness directive also require a mandated comment period.

Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines have all removed the 737 Max from their schedules until March 2020.

Related: Checklists come into focus as pace-setter for 737 Max return

Boeing had been seeking to begin deliveries of 737 Max aircraft by year end if the airworthiness directive — the formal ungrounding order — had been approved by the FAA. It is extremely unlikely that customers would accept fully-paid Max deliveries absent an airworthiness certificate that clears the aircraft for flight, which would include the required Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System software modifications and updated training to operate the aircraft.

Related: FAA pushes back on ‘pressure’ to return Boeing 737 Max to service

The FAA in a statement said that it informed Boeing on Tuesday that it would “retain authority” for issuing airworthiness certificates for all new 737 Max deliveries. The regulator won’t sign-off on any deliveries until those aircraft and their airlines “comply with all changes required…for return to service of those aircraft” following the approval of the final airworthiness directive.

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An FAA spokesman said the agency “is following a thorough process, not a prescribed timeline, for returning the Boeing 737 MAX to passenger service. The agency will lift the grounding order only after we have determined the aircraft is safe.”

The Air Current reported Friday on an email from a Transport Canada safety official indicating his discomfort with including the MCAS in the 737 Max for its return to service. Barring a completely unforeseen shift, a regulatory official said MCAS will be in the final form of the 737 Max that is re-certificated for service. The FAA can’t guarantee MCAS will be in its proposed changes until it is delivered for final certification, but there has been no signs that the plane maker is going in any other direction.

Related: Transport Canada safety official urges removal of MCAS from 737 Max

Boeing on Nov. 21, 22 and 23 fielded its 737 Max 7 test for flight tests over Washington state for evaluations of the MCAS system. Wind-up turns and straight-ahead stall testing, the two conditions where MCAS would be needed, are evident in the data transmitted to Flightradar24.

Max 200 ‘design issue’ driving new Ryanair delays

Separately, low-cost carrier Ryanair said in a memorandum to pilots that it now expects “at best” 10 737 Max aircraft for its fleet in time for the peak summer season. The ultra low-cost giant attributed the fresh delay in deliveries to a new “design issue” with specialized high-density model launched specifically for the airline, according to a message to its pilots, which was reviewed by TAC.

Ryanair declined to comment and referred questions to Boeing.

A Boeing spokesman said in a statement that the plane maker continues “to work through our rigorous processes and testing procedures to ensure we meet all FAA and [European Union Aviation Safety Agency] certification requirements for the High-Capacity 737 MAX 8 (737-8-200). The certification of the 737-8-200 remains connected to the schedule for safely returning the 737 MAX 8 to commercial service.”

The company did not elaborate on the design issue referred to be the airline.

The memorandum, authored by Neal McMahon, the airline’s director of operations, said the unspecified issue with the jet’s “2nd over wing exit” will at least cut in half its original expectation of 20 deliveries ahead of the busiest travel season. As recently as late October, the airline had anticipated getting those 20 through March, April and May, but the first handed over to the carrier won’t come until “late April, possibly early May.”

This new round of delays, according to the memo, will result in one to two more base closures and further reduction in capacity at others, as well as a freeze on command upgrades. The carrier had originally been planning for as many as 58 in its fleet for 2020, but is now trying to secure “at least 50 delivery positions” for 2021 to “return to our normal level of pilot recruitment.

The 737 Max 200 is a modified version of the 737 Max 8 with a new set of doors along the aft fuselage of the jet to increase certified seating capacity for up to 200 seats. Ryanair will fly the jet with 197 passengers. Boeing first flew the aircraft, which Ryanair launched in 2014, back in January kicking off a test campaign for the modified jet.

The Max grounding indefinitely stalled plans to certify the variant for service. The model first needs approval from the FAA and subsequently the EASA before it is cleared to carry passengers.

Write to Jon Ostrower at jon@theaircurrent.com

Jon Ostrower is Editor-in-chief of The Air Current. Prior to launching TAC in June 2018, Ostrower served as Aviation Editor for CNN Worldwide, guiding the network's global coverage of the business and operations of flying. Ostrower joined CNN in 2016 following four and half years at the Wall Street Journal. Based first in Chicago and then in Washington, D.C. he covered Boeing, aviation safety and the business of global aerospace. Before that, Ostrower was editor of the award-winning FlightBlogger for Flightglobal and Flight International Magazine covering the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other new aircraft programs from 2007 to 2012. Ostrower, a Boston native, graduated from The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs with a bachelor's degree in Political Communication. He is based in Seattle.

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