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Latest 737 Max delay 'very disappointing': Southwest CEO

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Southwest Airlines, the largest operator of the grounded Boeing 737 Max, said the discovery of a new safety issue with the jetliner is extending its absence "well beyond" what was hoped, forcing the carrier to reassess its schedule for the rest of the year.

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SOUTHWEST Airlines, the largest operator of the grounded Boeing 737 Max, said the discovery of a new safety issue with the jetliner is extending its absence "well beyond" what was hoped, forcing the carrier to reassess its schedule for the rest of the year.

The latest problem, "unfortunately, is going to delay the timeline for returning the Max to service" in early October, chief executive officer Gary Kelly told employees on Mon-day. "That's very disappointing."

The new glitch doesn't directly involve the flight-control software that was linked to two crashes since October that killed a total of 346 people. Fixing the problem, which Boeing has said can be done with a software patch, could take as much as three months, people familiar with the matter have said.

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Southwest has cancelled 150 daily flights during the busy summer travel season. On June 27, the carrier extended its Max cancellations through Oct 1, its second extension in two weeks.

"I'm sure this will cause us to have to take the Max out of the schedule beyond Oct 1," Mr Kelly said in a regularly recorded message. "We'll also see whatever other modifications we might need to make for our plans for this year. It is obviously extending well beyond what I had hoped."

American Airlines and United Airlines have kept the Max out of their schedules until the first week of September. American said it's awaiting additional information before refining its schedule.

Mr Kelly, who has maintained he and Southwest have "the utmost confidence" in the Max and Boeing, said just six weeks ago that it was "absolutely" possible the troubled plane would return to flying this summer.

Southwest has flown Boeing 737s exclusively since 1971, when the airline began operations. Mr Kelly said in April that there was no guarantee the carrier would stick to one aircraft type forever although it had no immediate plans to diversify its fleet. BLOOMBERG