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Australia bans 737 MAX 8 planes as crash ripples spread

March 13, 2019 Headline News No Comments


Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) moved last night to temporarily suspend operation of the controversial Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in Australian airspace, as authorities around the world react to two crashes in the past 19 weeks, with a total death toll of 346 passengers and crew.

Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has done likewise, banning the Boeing 737 MAX from operating in or over UK airspace “as a precautionary measure”. It was followed by India and the European Union.

There is nothing to show the aircraft type is to blame, but after the second crash, an Ethiopian Airlines jet on Sunday, international concern and suspicion sent Boeing stock diving 11% in initial trading. See: Industry desperate for answers after second plane crash

Virgin Australia, which has 30 737 MAX 8s on order, issued the following statement yesterday:

Safety is Virgin Australia’s number one priority.

We are closely watching the situation and monitoring any updates from Boeing and the investigating authorities.

 There are currently no Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in our fleet and it is too early for us to make comment on our order. With our first aircraft delivery not due until November this year, we believe there is sufficient time to consider the outcome of the investigation and make an assessment.

 We will continue to work with Boeing and the relevant authorities as more information becomes available.

The are no Australia-based 737 MAX 8 aircraft operating. Fiji Airways is the only airline operating the 737 MAX 8 in Australian airspace. It will now be unable to do so but will reportedly use an Airbus plane in the meantime. The plane is also banned from New Zealand airspace.

China has grounded all 737 MAX 8s in its territory. Indonesia and Ethiopia, which have suffered disastrous 737 MAX 8 crashes, have done likewise. So have South Korea and  Mongolia.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) yesterday suspended all Boeing 737 MAX operations into and out of the country until further notice “in light of two fatal accidents involving Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in less than five months”.

Singapore Airlines will temporarily withdraw its SilkAir fleet of six 737 MAX 8 planes from service. Routes the planes had flown included between Singapore, Darwin and Cairns. The Singaporean carrier added in a Facebook statement the standard proclamation that “the safety of our customers and crew is our highest priority”.

Boeing 737 MAX 8

Separately, some 30 airlines have unilaterally grounded their 737 MAX 8s pending investigation. They include, reportedly, Aerolineas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Comair in South Africa, Cayman Airways and the Brazilian airline Gol. Other operators are still flying the 737 MAX.

Internationally, according to the Dallas Morning Post, operators of the aircraft include Southwest Airlines (31 in the fleet), American Airlines (22) and Air Canada (20). Southwest is said to be waiving change penalties for its passengers scheduled to fly on 737 MAX 8 services if they wish to switch.

Norwegian Air, FlyDubai and several Chinese carriers also operate the model – though the Chinese 737 MAX 8 fleet is currently grounded.

Pressure has been put on the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which originally certified the model, to ground 737 MAX 8 planes in the US but the FAA has so far declined to do so, saying it is “closely monitoring developments” in the investigation.

US Senator Dianne Feinstein has urged the FAA to act, saying: “Until the cause of the crash is known and it’s clear that similar risks aren’t present in the domestic fleet, I believe all Boeing 737 Max 8 series aircraft operating in the United States should be temporarily grounded.”

ABC News in Australia reported yesterday that Boeing has announced plans to upgrade software in its 737 MAX 8 planes “in the coming weeks”. The announcement reportedly came a few hours after the FAA said it would mandate “design changes” in the aircraft by April.

The FAA said Boeing was working to complete “flight control system enhancements, which provide reduced reliance on procedures associated with required pilot memory items”.

Boeing is the largest US exporter by dollar value and its 737 MAX 8 is, or was, the fastest selling plane in the company’s history.

Written by Peter Needham

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