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Why 737 Max plane woes worry KQ, African airlines

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Kenya Airways planes at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Boeing made the decision on Tuesday following delays by the US aviation regulator in recertifying it back to the air following two fatal accidents last year.
  • KQ chairman Michael Joseph says the decision does not have an immediate effect but it could affect them in future once they want to make orders for new aircraft.

Boeing’s decision to suspend manufacturing of 737 Max 8 is set to hit a lot of airlines across the continent, including Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ, which was banking on this model to replace some of its aging fleet.

Boeing made the decision on Tuesday following delays by the US aviation regulator in recertifying it back to the air following two fatal accidents last year.

KQ chairman Michael Joseph says the decision does 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 as 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 an interview with Shipping and Logistics.

Like many African airlines, the national carrier was betting on the Boeing 737 Max 8 series to replace its retiring fleet of 737-700 as it seeks to expand its presence. This is mainly because the planes are not too small or too big, in addition to being fuel-efficient

The national carrier was considering buying Boeing 737 Max 8 even before the two accidents, as it is the only series in the Boeing family that it could acquire.

“The only option that we have planned for is the Boeing 737 Max 8 because this will make it easier for us to conduct training and maintenance of the aircraft,” said Mr Joseph in an interview with Shipping and Logistics in March this 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.

Thanks to its fuel efficiency, 737 Max 8 has been one of Boeing’s bestselling aircrafts after delivering over 370 aircrafts since 2017, with placed orders of about 5,000 before the two accidents.

KQ currently has a fleet of 40 aircrafts, which is a mixture of the Brazilian made Embraer 190 and a range of Boeing jets.

These aircrafts comprise 20 that the national carrier fully owns with the remaining 20 having been leased from other companies.

The airline has leased three of the Boeing 777-300ER to Turkish airline while Boeing 787 Dreamliner has been leased to Oman Air where KQ earns lease rental income from the arrangement.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 is said to be having a default with its sensors, which sends wrong information to the aircraft computer.

The Angel of Attack Sensor (AOA) sensors send information to the plane's computers about the position of the plane's nose relative to the airflow over and under the wings to help determine whether the plane is about to stall.

Software installed on Boeing's 737 Max 8 planes, called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), automatically lowers the nose of the plane when it receives information from the AOA sensors that the aircraft is flying too slowly or steeply, and at risk of stalling.

Ethiopian Airline is the only carrier in the region with this type of aircraft having purchased a couple of them from the US based manufacturer.

The 737 Max 8 was grounded worldwide in March after two fatal crashes — a Lion Air jet that plunged into the Java Sea in October 2018 and an Ethiopian Airlines plane downed near Addis Ababa in March — killed 346 people.

The move to suspend its manufacturing will put airlines that already are operating this model under immense pressure as they have to lease aircraft to compensate the loss in capacity.

"We believe this decision is least disruptive to maintaining long-term production system and supply chain health," Boeing said in a release on Monday.

Rwanda also planned to buy two new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. However this was put in limbo following investigations into the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft crash.

Kigali’s national carrier RwandAir was in advanced stages of acquiring the planes, which were expected to land in the country late March or early April.