Australia bans trouble-hit Boeing 737 Max 8s
AUSTRALIA last night banned the Boeing 737 Max 8 airliner from its skies as an aviation expert accused the plane manufacturer of "engineering arrogance" following the Ethiopian Airlines disaster in which 157 died.
The move came as airlines around the world grounded their fleets of Boeing Max 8s in response to Sunday's crash, the second fatal incident involving one of the planes in the past five months.
The brand new Boeing 737 Max 8 that had recently been delivered to Ethiopian Airlines had flown just 1400 hours when it crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa.
The previous crash occurred in October in Indonesia when a Lion Air jet plunged into the sea killing everyone on board.
Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) suspended the jets from Australian skies "in the interests of safety" and late last night a Fiji Airways 737 Max 8 was the last of the model to be able to fly into Sydney.
Aviation expert Neil Hansford said he was "happy and surprised" CASA finally showed some "balls" in stopping the troubled jets from flying in Australian airspace.
But he said it should have grounded the planes earlier. "Too often CASA forget they are the regulator of our airspace," he said.
CASA director of aviation safety Shane Carmody said: "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."
Mr Hansford said the safety issues plaguing the jets could have dire consequences for global aviation, with more than 4500 of the model on order: "In terms of the number of aircraft involved this has the potential to be the greatest aviation disaster we've seen.
"If the black box produces similar circumstances to Lion there is not much Boeing can do about it," he said.
A knock-on effect could be higher insurance premiums for airlines who still use the jets, with the cost passed onto customers through higher fares.
Mr Hansford said Boeing had shown "engineering arrogance" in not "designing out" the issues with the Max 8.
Virgin Australia has 30 of the new jets on order with the first due to be delivered at the end of the year but refused to say if it would still take the order in light of the ban.
The ban will stop Fiji Airways from flying its two Max 8 jets into Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
A Fiji Airways spokesman confirmed it had suspended the planes flying into Australia and would use different models.
"While Fiji Airways is confident in the airworthiness of our Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft and our robust training program, we respect CASA's position," he said.
Singapore Airlines budget carrier Silk Air, which flies to Darwin and Cairns, grounded its fleet of six Australia-bound Boeing Max 8s earlier on Tuesday.
A Virgin Australia spokesman said before the ban was announced yesterday: "It is too early for us to make comment on our order.
With our first aircraft delivery not due until November this year, we believe there is sufficient time to consider the outcome of the investigation and make an assessment."
Homebush's Mohammad Ibrahim flew in on the Fiji Airways flight last night and said his wife Shalina was concerned when they realised what plane they were on.
"I flew out and read it on the flight instructions, my wife was worried actually," he said.
Sydney man Kevin O'Neill, 23, was returning from a holiday in Fiji with his girlfriend Pheobe Yu, 22, and said he realised it was a 737 Max 8 only after boarding.
"When they said the brief in the plane they listed (the type) and I was like that's literally the one that just crashed, and the guy in front of me was watching the news and it literally said the type, and I was like oh great," he said.
Mr O'Neill said he did not want to tell his partner about the model of plane they were on until coverage of the Ethiopian crash was broadcast during the flight on a TV.
"I didn't tell her until halfway, she's usually iffy on flights, so I didn't want to tell her until she was watching (the TV), there was live CNN news, it was literally going over that, we were like 'let's hope we get through this one'," he said.
As the UK joined Australia and grounded the model, Boeing repeated its statement that the company had "full confidence" in its 737 Max 8 aircraft.
The US Federal Aviation Administration has stopped short of banning the jet from flying in America, where US airlines have bought the majority of the more than 300 planes that have been built since it first rolled out of the factory in 2017.
Instead the FAA said it would mandate "design changes" in the jet by April.