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Boeing 737 Max safety nod gives airlines boost in revamp of fleet

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A Boeing 737 MAX airliner piloted by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Steve Dickson lands following an evaluation flight at Boeing Field the in Seattle, Washington on September 30, 2020. AFP PHOTO

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Summary

  • The 737 Max was grounded in March last year following two fatal crashes involving Ethiopian Airlines and an Indonesian carrier.
  • The accidents were blamed on a faulty software and structural design of the aircraft, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators to ground it as they reviewed its safety.

The approval of Boeing 737 Max by European regulator and plans by the American Airlines to return it to service is good news for African carriers including Kenya Airways, which had been cosidering buying the aircraft to replace its ageing fleet.

The 737 Max was grounded in March last year following two fatal crashes involving Ethiopian Airlines and an Indonesian carrier.

The accidents were blamed on a faulty software and structural design of the aircraft, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators to ground it as they reviewed its safety.

European Union Aviation Safety Agency, told the Bloomberg that it was satisfied with the changes Boeing has made to the aircraft, pointing out that the 737 Max could begin flying in Europe before the end of this year.

Boeing 737 Max is a favourite for airlines because it’s the most fuel-efficient in the 737 family. The 737 Max also has a longer range and lower operating cost.

In the tight margins aviation industry having the most efficient planes makes a big financial difference.

Boeing suspended manufacturing of 737-800 Max last year after most airlines that had placed orders cancelled them following the grounding of the aircraft across the globe.

Pending orders

Kenya Airways (KQ) chairman Michael Joseph had not responded to our questions by the time of going to press. However, in an earlier interview he had said that the decision (grounding) did not have an immediate effect, but it could affect them in future once they want to make orders for new aircraft.

“It does not affect us at the moment because we do not have pending orders, but in future it might when we would be seeking to make orders,” said Mr Joseph in the interview with Shipping & Logistics.

The national carrier was betting on the Boeing 737 Max series to replace its retiring fleet of 737-700 as it seeks to expand its presence.

The airline was considering buying Boeing 737 Max even before the two accidents.

“The only option that we have planned for is the Boeing 737 Max because this will make it easier for us to conduct training and maintenance of the aircraft,” said Mr Joseph in an interview with the Business Daily in March last year.

“We hope that between now and by the time when we are ready for acquiring the new fleet Boeing would have solved the current problem,” he added.

RwandAir was at an advanced stage of acquiring the 737 Max before the mishaps, but suspended the plans saying it was waiting for the verdict from the investigation on the Ethiopian Airline crush.

“It is important that investigations are conducted first; the government is concerned and the regulatory organ is monitoring the situation before making a decision,” said the Minister of State for East Africa Olivier Nduhungirehe in an earlier interview with The East African.

The development comes at a time when demand for passenger jets has significantly dipped, largely due to the sharp drop in air travel and massive losses across the airline industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Phased approach

American Airlines announced last week plans to fly 737 Max planes between Miami and New York from December 29 and January 4. The airline said it's taking a phased approach in resuming the operation of this aircraft.

Air Canada has scheduled flights with the Max starting December 28 between three Canadian airports — Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal — and four US airports -- Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Palm Springs, California.

Mr Steve Dickson, the head of the FAA and a former airline pilot, conducted his own test flight of the Max last month and said he liked what he saw on the flight, but he wanted to make some tweaks to the training that pilots would receive to fly the plane again.