‘Vigilant’ Comair to continue with new 737s after Ethiopian Airlines crash

PICTURE: 123RF/ANTONIO GUILLEM
PICTURE: 123RF/ANTONIO GUILLEM

JSE-listed airline Comair said on Monday it will be vigilant regarding the use of its own Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft following the crash of a similar plane in Ethiopia at the weekend.

While Ethiopian Airlines and carriers in China, the Cayman Islands and Indonesia have decided to suspend the use of these aircraft, several other airlines around the world have decided not to ground them and, like Comair, will be monitoring the situation closely. 

Comair took delivery of its first Boeing 737 Max 8 in February, making it the first airline in Southern Africa to do so. It has ordered eight such aircraft with the next delivery due in March and the last one in 2022.

“Comair will continue to monitor the various investigations by the relevant authorities and are in close contact with both Boeing and the SA Civil Aviation Authority [SACAA],” the statement said.

“The 737 Max 8 is one of the most commonly used aircraft in many airlines today and, by November 2018, 330 737 MAX 8 aircraft were in operation globally,” the statement said.

The SACAA confirmed that there are two Boeing 737 Max 8s on the SA aircraft register belonging to one operator, only one of which is in operation.

“The SACAA is implementing precautionary measures by engaging all affected stakeholders. In this regard, the regulator has made contact with both the local operator and the manufacturer.

“The SACAA is monitoring the situation and will not hesitate to take any preventative measures, but these will be based on facts and not speculation. This is in the spirit of preserving the integrity of our air transport safety and security system," spokesperson Kabela Ledwaba said.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya, crashed six minutes after takeoff on Sunday morning killing all 157 on board. 

An accident on the same type of plane flown by Lion Air crashed into the sea off the Indonesian capital of Jakarta in October 2018 13 minutes after takeoff killing all 189 people on board.

The two accidents have given rise to concerns about possible faults in this type of aircraft. However, Comair said in a media statement that only a full investigation would determine the causes of these accidents.

Comair said that its flight crew and engineers remained vigilant and would take appropriate action in the interests of safety should it receive information that required it to reassess the situation. Safety remained its foremost priority.

Comair’s two airline brands are British Airways — which it operates under licence — and kulula.com. They fly to 11 destinations in SA, Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean.

The Guardian reported on Monday that Ethiopian Airlines had joined carriers in China and the Cayman Islands in suspending the use of Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after Sunday’s crash.

The report said that China’s aviation authorities had ordered the country’s airlines to ground their Boeing 737 Max 8 jets in view of the fact that the two air crashes were of newly delivered aircraft and had “certain similarities”. They said this decision was “in line with our principle of zero tolerance for safety hazards and strict control of safety risks”. 

The Guardian reported that about 60 of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft had been delivered to about 12 Chinese airlines since the new aircraft was released.

Cayman Airways also announced it would ground its Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft while the investigation into the crash took place in the interests of safety.

AFP reported that Indonesia has also announced that it would ground its Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets.

The director-general of Air Transport Polana Pramesti said on Monday that inspections on Indonesia’s 11 Max 8 jets would start on Tuesday and the plane would remain grounded until it was cleared by safety regulators.

Reuters reported that the shares of Boeing fell 9% in early trade Monday following the crash.

The company said the investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines crash was in its early stages and there was no need to issue new guidance to operators of its 737 Max 8 aircraft based on the information it has so far.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet to Nairobi crashed early on Sunday March 10 2019, killing all 149 passengers. Here is what we know so far.

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