737 MAX Groundings Add Pressure on Boeing and FAA

Photo: Boeing


Both operators and civil aviation authorities have grounded Boeing 737 MAXs following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft on March 10. It is the type’s second hull loss in five months, a Lion Air example having been lost on October 29, 2018.

The African carrier was first to stop flying the type, doing so on the morning of March 11, followed shortly by MIAT Mongolian Airlines. Cayman Airways released a statement later the same day, with its CEO, Fabian Whorms, stating that the airline had “taken the decision to suspend operations… until more information is received.”

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), requested domestic airlines to suspend 737 MAX operations by 6pm on Monday evening. This decision has affected Air China, China Eastern Airlines, Kunming Airways, Okay Airways and Shenzhen Airlines.

Royal Air Maroc has grounded its two examples, although only one had entered service. The second, CN-MAY (c/n 60011), was delivered to Casablanca on March 1 and had yet to begin flying for the North African carrier.

Indonesia and Singapore have issued directives stating they will not permit the single-aisle aircraft to fly in their airspace. While no Australian carriers fly the jet, its Civil Aviation Safety Authority has banned Fiji Airways and SilkAir from using the type on routes to the country. The UAE’s General Civil Aviation Aviation Authority has also banned the aircraft, preventing FlyDubai from flying their nine MAX 8s and two MAX 9s.

Comair, the latest operator of the MAX 8, parked its sole example at Johannesburg/OR Tambo on Monday evening. Delivered on February 28, ZS-ZCA (c/n 60432) had entered service less than a week prior to Sunday’s crash.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority stated on Tuesday that: “as a precautionary measure, [it has] issued instructions to stop any commercial passenger flights from any operator arriving, departing or overflying UK airspace.”

Prior to the CAA’s statement TUI Airways, the UK’s only company flying the twinjet, had continued to use the type following Sunday’s crash, stating it was “in close contact with the manufacturer and regulatory authorities”. This also impacts LOT Polish Airlines, Air Canada, WestJet, Norwegian Air Shuttle and Icelandair. Two Turkish Airlines 737 MAX 8s were forced to return to Istanbul while en route to Gatwick and Birmingham. The European Union has since imposed a ban on all MAX flights.

Shortly after the CAA’s announcement, Norwegian Air Shuttle and Icelandair confirmed via their Twitter feeds that they have stopped flying the type. While Aerolineas Argentinas has grounded its five examples, Gol its seven and Canadian carrier Sunwing its four, no American airlines have withdrawn aircraft from service. Outside the US, Thai Lion Air, Copa Airlines, WestJet, Smartwings and Air Canada continue to use their examples.

Despite mounting pressure, the Federal Aviation Administration has said it is “[continuing] to review extensively all available data and aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boeing 737 MAX. Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action. In the course of our urgent review of data on the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, if any issues affecting the continued airworthiness of the aircraft are identified, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action”.

Boeing has said it is ready to release an update for the 737 MAX’s flight control software following the crash of a Lion Air example in October 2018. It includes modifications to the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training. The FAA says it anticipates mandating this software enhancement with an Airworthiness Directive no later than April.

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