NZ suspends Boeing 737 MAX – Expert Reaction

The Civil Aviation Authority has temporarily suspended Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from travelling in and out of New Zealand.

The move came after an Ethiopia Airlines flight en route to Nairobi crashed on Sunday (local time) six minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa, tragically killing all 157 people on board.

While the suspension here affects only one operator in New Zealand, Fiji Airways, New Zealand it not unique in its position. China was first to enforce the ban and, according to CNN, the US and Canada are the only countries still allowing these aircraft to fly.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the suspension.

Professor Michael Lück, School of Hospitality & Tourism, Auckland University of Technology, comments:

“We had two crashes for the 737-8MAX within about five months. Both *superficially* appear to have eerily similar patterns, i.e. a crash shortly after take-off. Both also appear to have had problems with the controls, i.e. it does not seem to be cases of external influences, such as weather, terrorism, flight crew incapacitated for some reason, etc.

“HOWEVER, and that is a big however, we must not jump to conclusions, since we don’t even have a final report for the first crash, and very little information, especially reliable information, about the second one.

“Having said that, it seems to be prudent to temporarily ground this specific aircraft, until we know more about the causes of these two crashes. While there are currently about 350 737 MAX aircraft in service, roughly 250 are of the -8 variant.

“Currently, no airline in New Zealand operates the 737MAX. Fiji Airways is the only airline that flies the MAX-8 into New Zealand, and Samoa Airways has the MAX-9 on order for delivery relatively soon. The grounding takes two aircraft out of Fiji Airways’ six 737 aircraft out of service (they also operate one 737-700 and three 737-800), and while it does not appear to be a lot, with such a small fleet this is significant. The consequence is that they will have to either cancel a number of flights, or find substitutes for these flights, i.e. utilise the other four 737s more (if at all possible), and/or charter additional aircraft.

“On a global scale, 250 MAX-8 are not a huge number either, but depending on how long the grounding will last, I anticipate the market (both second hand and charter) for 737NG aircraft (NG = next generation, i.e variants -600, -700 and -800) to heat up should the grounding be for a long time or indefinitely. The competitor’s Airbus A320 series might also see an increased demand on the second hand or charter markets if the grounding lasts.

“For the manufacturer of the 737, Boeing, this is of course a PR disaster. While we cannot say at all that the aircraft is inherently unsafe (after all there are more the 300 aircraft operating many flights safely on a daily basis!) until we know the causes of the Lion Air and the Ethiopian Air crashes, the general public is commonly not familiar with aircraft manufacturers, and less so with specific types. The slogan ‘if it is Boeing I am not going’ may make the rounds very quickly, despite having no fundamental reasons to base this on.

“Lastly, the tourism industry overall will feel very minor effects, if any at all. The MAX series is a very new aircraft (less than two years in service), and thus globally relatively few are flying with a small number of airlines. Thus, there are plenty of alternatives, both in terms of aircraft tourists can fly on (even with operators that do fly the 737-MAX8), and in terms of airlines. The larger operators of the MAX have diverse fleets and can more easily absorb the grounding of one type. For example, United Airlines has a fleet of well over 700 aircraft, and of these only 14 are currently MAX-9 models.”

No conflict of interest.

Ashok Poduval, Chief Executive, School of Aviation, Massey University, comments:

“The aviation industry, like many others, is heavily regulated and operates on the basis of risk management. There can never be a guarantee of zero risk in any transportation industry. Civil aviation authorities make decisions based on assessment of risk with safety of the travelling public being paramount. The fact that so many countries across the world have made the decision to temporarily suspend operation of this type of aircraft would suggest that they consider the risk significant enough to stop the B737 Max 8 from flying within their jurisdiction until, possibly, at least a preliminary investigation report of the Ethiopian Airlines crash is received.

“Naturally this is likely to have an impact on Boeing Airplane Company as adverse publicity is never helpful and could lead to demand for compensation from the airlines who have acquired this fleet, since it is a relatively new aircraft. Boeing has a statement dated 12 March 2019 on their website where they have stated that the US FAA is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, they do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”

No conflict of interest declared.