13 Mar 2019

CAA suspends operations of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft both in and out of NZ

5:40 pm on 13 March 2019

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is suspending operations of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft both in and out of New Zealand.

A Boeing Max 8 plane.

A Boeing Max 8 plane. Photo: AFP or licensors

Currently this affects only one operator, Fiji Airways - no other airlines fly the planes to New Zealand.

Fiji Airways has itself grounded its two 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The Samoan government has expressed safety concerns around the Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft ahead of the national airline receiving the plane.

The list of countries either grounding or banning the planes from operating over their airspace is climbing.

It comes after a Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed minutes after take-off on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board and raising questions about the safety of that model.

The same type of plane also crashed and killed 189 people in Indonesia in October.

Civil Aviation director Graeme Harris said because the next scheduled flight was not until tomorrow afternoon, the CAA has had time to thoroughly review concerns about the plane model.

He said the decision to suspend operations follows discussions with other aviation authorities, including the US Federal Aviation Administration, which has had responsibility for oversight of the design of the aircraft.

The CAA's assessment has taken into consideration the level of uncertainty about the cause of the recent Ethiopian Airlines crash, plus its review of the aircraft's design, Mr Harris said.

He said it was a temporary suspension while the agency continued to analyse information as it came to hand.

Aviation expert Peter Clark said the suspension was sensible as investigations into the disaster continue.

"It's just really a risk reduction for New Zealand - and we've got to remember Fiji Airways only have two of these new aircraft at this time - and they are only operating here under a limited amount of time," he said.

House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said Fiji Airways flew into Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and customers had been contacting them asking about their options.

"[Fiji Airways] have got a couple of other planes that they were using on other services and they are replacing the MAX with those," he said.

"Should there be further scheduling issues, one of the options Fiji Airways will have is to lease planes which has happened in the past ... like the Dreamliner issues, where planes were brought into service from overseas."

Australia Britain, Norway and Belgium have joined several other countries, such as France and Germany, in banning the planes from flying in their airspace.

US officials said the aircraft were still safe to fly.

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