Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has joined European, Chinese and other international regulators by temporarily suspending the operation of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to or from Australia.
While no Australian airlines have the Boeing 737 MAX in their fleet, the CASA suspension affects two foreign airlines – Fiji Airways and Singapore Airlines’ regional wing Silkair.
However, Silkair on Tuesday had already grounded its 737 MAX fleet following the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore’s decision to ban the type from flying into and out of Singapore.
Therefore, Fiji Airways is the only other operator that will be affected by the temporary suspension.
CASA chief executive and director of aviation safety Shane Carmody said the decision to suspend 737 MAX operations was in the best interests of safety, following two recent fatal accidents – Ethiopian Airlines’ flight ET302 that crashed on Sunday and the Lion Air flight that plunged into the Java Sea in October 2018.
“This is a temporary suspension while we wait for more information to review the safety risks of continued operations of the Boeing 737 MAX to and from Australia.” Carmody said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
“CASA regrets any inconvenience to passengers but believes it is important to always put safety first.”
CASA said it was closely monitoring the situation, with the suspension to be reviewed as relevant safety information became available from Boeing, the United States Federal Aviation Administration and accident investigators.
Fiji Airways said it would substitute other aircraft on its Australian routes and would notify affected customers.
“While Fiji Airways is confident in the airworthiness of our Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft and our robust training programme, we respect CASA’s position,” the airline said in a statement on its website.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and remain in constant contact with all relevant state regulators and authorities. The safety of our passengers and crew is, and always will be, our number one priority.”
In addition to Singapore, China and Indonesia, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has also suspended all flight operations of the 737 MAX until further notice.
“Following the tragic accident of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 involving a Boeing 737 MAX 8, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is taking every step necessary to ensure the safety of passengers,” EASA said in a statement.
“As a precautionary measure, EASA has published today an Airworthiness Directive, effective as of 19:00 UTC, suspending all flight operations of all Boeing Model 737-8 MAX and 737-9 MAX aeroplanes in Europe.
“In addition EASA has published a Safety Directive, effective as of 19:00 UTC, suspending all commercial flights performed by third-country operators into, within or out of the EU of the above mentioned models.”
The United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority also suspended 737 MAX operations into and out of the country.
“The UK Civil Aviation Authority has been closely monitoring the situation, however, as we do not currently have sufficient information from the flight data recorder we have, as a precautionary measure, issued instructions to stop any commercial passenger flights from any operator arriving, departing or overflying UK airspace,” a UK CAA spokesperson said in a statement.
“The UK Civil Aviation Authority’s safety directive will be in place until further notice. We remain in close contact with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and industry regulators globally.”
Boeing still confident in 737 MAX
Boeing said in a statement it had “full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX”.
“We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets,” Boeing said on March 12 (US time).
“We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets.
“The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”
The US FAA said in a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) issued on Monday (US time) that it did not see any need to take action at this time.
The notice said the FAA it was supporting the Ethiopian Accident Investigation Bureau and had its own technical advisors at the crash site.
The #FAA has issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) related to the @Boeing 737-8 and @Boeing 737-9 (737 MAX) fleet. The document is available at https://t.co/zD9gizwPIc. https://t.co/QRZ7xSWdFC
— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) March 11, 2019
Further, the FAA said it was too early to determine a cause of the accident and whether there were any parallels with the crash of a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 in October 2018.
“External reports are drawing similarities between this accident and the Lion Air Flight 610 accident on October 29, 2018,” the FAA notice said.
“However, this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions.”
Industry estimates suggest about half of the roughly 370 737 MAX aircraft in service have now been grounded.
Virgin Australia monitoring the situation
While there are no Australian operators of the 737 MAX, Virgin Australia has 40 of the type on order and due to receive its first 737 MAX 8 by the end of 2019. The airline is also scheduled to take delivery of the 737 MAX 10 in 2022.
Virgin Australia said in a statement on Tuesday safety was its number one priority.
“Virgin Australia will not introduce any new aircraft to the fleet unless we are completely satisfied with its safety,” the airline said.
“We are closely monitoring thhe situation and will continue to work with Boeing, CASA, and other relevant authorities as more information becomes available.”