Comair grounds MAX jets

Date: 12 Mar 2019

SA airline pulls ill-fated passenger plane from its commercial schedules

MORE than 5 000 models of the ill-fated Boeing 737 MAX 8 have been ordered across the world, with 370 already delivered to customers that include South Africa’s Comair.

While investigations continue into what may have caused two crashes involving the new version of the plane, killing a combined 346 people on board, the manufacturer, US aerospace giant Boeing, has declined to comment on safety standards and whether a worldwide recall will be implemented.

Boeing spokesperson Saffana Michael told The Star yesterday that the company had received a total of 5 000 orders for the 737 MAX 8 since last month.

Michael said more than 370 MAX 8 planes had been delivered worldwide.

Just last month, South African airline operator Comair proudly announced that it had purchased the plane at a cost of $121 600 000 (R1.74 billion).

Comair is the only airline in sub-Saharan Africa to operate the fuelefficient plane.

“As part of its fleet-renewal strategy, Comair ordered eight of these aircraft, with the next arriving in March and the last one due for delivery in 2022.

“It is the first airline in southern Africa to acquire the 737 MAX 8, and the new aircraft will replace its Boeing 737-400s,” Comair said in a statement last month.

Comair airline division executive director Wrenelle Stander said: “More seats, lower operating costs and less maintenance downtime will enhance efficiency and improve punctuality.”

Amid safety concerns for the 737 MAX 8 and public threats to stop flying Kulula and British Airways, which is operated by Comair, the company made a U-turn on its decision not to ground the plane last night.

“Comair has decided to remove its 737 MAX 8 from its flight schedule, although neither regulatory authorities nor the manufacturer have required it to do so.

“It has decided temporarily not to schedule the aircraft while it consults other operators, Boeing and technical experts.

“Acquisition (of the 737 MAX 8) is part of Comair’s fleet-renewal programme. The Boeing 737 is the best-selling commercial airliner of all time, and around the world, the MAX 8 has operated in excess of 250 000 flights to date,” Stander pointed out. Stander said Comair would not compromise on the safety of its customers or personnel.

She also said 47 airlines operated the 737 MAX 8.

On Sunday, Ethiopian Airlines’ flight ET 302 crashed just six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa.

According to airline chief Tewolde GebreMariam, the pilot reported “difficulties and asked to return” the Nairobi-bound plane, which was carrying 149 passengers and eight crew.

At least 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, eight Americans and seven British nationals were among the passengers.

In October, another Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed a few minutes after take-off. The Lion Air flight crashed into the sea near Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board.

SA Airways spokesperson Tlali Tlali said the airline and its Mango subsidiary did not have the new model in their fleets.

“Mango operates B737-800 NG aircraft, a different generation from the MAX 8, and these aircraft have been operating for the last 18 years without any major issues,” Tlali said.

SAA sent condolences to the victims’ families, adding that it had “activated its emergency response processes at the Nairobi office in order to lend support to Ethiopian Airlines”.

Boeing sent condolences to the passengers’ families as well.

“Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane. We stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team.

“A Boeing technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and US National Transportation Safety Board,” said Michael.

Ethiopian Airlines, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and Indonesia have grounded the plane.

Chinese airlines have 96 of the 737 MAX 8 jets in service.

COMAIR has ordered eight Boeing MAX 8 aircraft at a cost of 1.74bn.

“Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing planes and happened during take-off, they have some degree of similarity,” the CAAC said in a statement. | Additional reporting by Dineo Faku

By By Sibongile Mashaba – sibongile.

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