737 MAX set to return to UAE skies
The country’s aviation regulator is likely to lift ban on 737 MAX operations and open airspace for Boeing’s best-selling aircraft this week
Boeing's 737 MAX is expected to return to the UAE skies by next month as the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) will open its airspace for the aircraft after a near two-year ban, Khaleej Times has learnt.
The ban, which was applied to any carriers using 737 MAX aircraft landing in or taking off from any of the UAE’s airports on March 13, 2019, is likely to be lifted by the UAE’s aviation regulator after a formal announcement this week, according to aviation sources.
The GCAA issued a ban against the operations of any Boeing 737 Max aircraft after the fatal crashes of Ethiopian Airways and Lion Air that triggered two years of regulatory scrutiny and corporate upheaval.
Flydubai is the only UAE airline which was impacted by the GCAA directive on the ban and immediately grounded its 14 MAX 8 and MAX 9 models. The Dubai-based carrier will be major beneficiary of the GCAA decision if the ban on 737 MAX is lifted, the sources said.
Saif Al Suwaidi, director-general of the General Authority of Civil Aviation, recently said that the authority will soon issue a final update to the safety decision for the return of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to service.
"The technical committee in the authority is currently working on evaluating the additional requirements that were mentioned in the latest version of the authority’s directive issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The evaluation will be completed within a two-week period, after which a safety decision will be issued in mid-February, which will indicate the expected time stage to restart the plane," Al Suwaidi said.
The director-general explained that the new version of the safety decision includes the latest updates on the corrective measures to be applied by airlines operating the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. It includes the modernisation of the MCAS system and pilot training procedures.
Al Suwaidi stressed that the authority is committed to ensuring the safe return of the plane to the country's airspace, through intensive work and communication with the US Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing, national carriers, in addition to the EASA.
“Flydubai continues to work closely with its regulator the General Civil Aviation Authority. Flydubai’s Boeing 737 MAX aircraft will not rejoin the operational schedule until it has received regulatory approval by the GCAA," a flydubai spokesperson told Khaleej Times on Saturday.
The airline, which grounded its 14 aircraft including 11 737 MAX 8 and 3 737 MAX 9, had placed a $27 billion order for 175 737 MAX aircraft at 2017 Dubai Airshow. The order also has an option to include 50 more 737 MAX.
"With the safe return to service of the 737 MAX already established in the USA, Canada and Brazil, the UAE is keen to rubber-stamp its approval of the type so that big Boeing customer, flydubai, can resume operations too," Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at London-based StrategicAero Research, told Khaleej Times on Monday.
Approval by the GCAA to resume 737 MAX operations is likely to be granted by March 2021, paving the way for flydubai to commence software and hardware changes to its existing parked 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 fleet and also allow the airline to resume enhanced pilot training too, Ahmad said.
"Thereafter, we’ll see the fuel-efficient 737 MAXs take to the skies again. Even with the pandemic still in play, the resumption of 737 MAX will still be hugely beneficial to flydubai. Not only it will allow the airline to fine tune its re-introduction back into service, it will allow the airline to cycle out some of its existing 737-800s for maintenance, downtime and also to be redeployed on other parts of its network to support its ever-growing cargo business," he said.
He said the current pandemic situation is not going to be this way forever. As one of the biggest 737 MAX customers, flydubai is primed to leverage the strength of its brand, products and its pricing to lure passengers back on board, many of whom are desperate to travel but cannot do so due to varying travel restrictions.
"Bringing the 737 MAX back into the game not only affords passengers a greater experience on flydubai’s award winning cabin and services, it’ll allow the airline to re-establish itself as the world’s fastest growing airline," Ahmad said.
The airline has struggled with the grounding of the 737 MAX, only able to operate its 40 737-800 aircraft in past two years. In 2019, the airline leased additional aircraft from Smartwings to help cover the busy holiday season.
“The airline still has orders for 237 737 MAX aircraft outstanding and it will take time to finalise the schedule when to start receiving new planes from Boeing,” according to sources.
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