Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 September 2020

UAE aviation regulator casts doubt on Boeing 737 Max return by mid-2020

Authority may take additional precautions such as reducing China flights if coronavirus outbreak worsens

A Boeing 737 MAX 8 aeroplane sits on the assembly line in the company's facility in Renton, Washington. The UAE aviation regulator chief said he is not optimistic about the jet's return to service by mid-2020. AP
A Boeing 737 MAX 8 aeroplane sits on the assembly line in the company's facility in Renton, Washington. The UAE aviation regulator chief said he is not optimistic about the jet's return to service by mid-2020. AP

The UAE civil aviation regulator's chief cast doubts on Boeing 737 Max's return to commercial service by the middle of this year, the latest target set by the US plane maker for its grounded jet.

At an aviation conference on Tuesday Saif Al Suwaidi, director general of the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), told reporters he is “not very optimistic” about the plane resuming flights by mid-2020, and highlighted the burden on Flydubai, the UAE's sole 737 Max operator, as a result of the grounding of its Max fleet.

"So far we keep hearing from Boeing that the situation may need some more time," Mr Al Suwaidi said. "I’m hoping it will be the middle of the year but I’m not expecting [it]."

Flydubai, the second biggest customer of the 737 Max after Texas-based Southwest, is considering leasing more jets after the latest delay to the aircraft's return to the skies. State-owned Flydubai, which has 250 Boeing 737 Maxs on order, took delivery of 14 Boeing 737 Maxs before the grounding in March.

The latest projection for the 737 Max's re-entry into service is more than a year since its global grounding in March 2019 following two deadly crashes that killed 346 people.

"It seems this aircraft in particular is facing a lot of challenges," he said. "Of course we are suffering from...aircraft here not flying for a long time now."

The GCAA will conduct its own safety assessment on the jet after Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration have completed their own checks and reviews, Mr Al Sowaidi said.

The UAE regulator has not "officially received" Boeing's entire fixes to its flight control software, which was implicated in both crashes, especially following the latest flaw the US jet maker discovered during a technical review.

The GCAA chief also said the authority is monitoring the outbreak of the flu-like virus in China and will "modify" its precautionary measures accordingly. Dubai and Abu Dhabi international airports said last week they will conduct thermal screening of passengers on direct flights from China as a precaution against the respiratory coronavirus that originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

"If the case gets worse, then we will have different measures as well," Mr Al Sowaidi said. "That may include reducing the flights if necessary."

The aviation regulator is working with the Ministry of Health, who is taking the lead, and is part of a committee to manage the situation, he said.

Mr Al Sowaidi said he does not have major concerns regarding the impact of the outbreak and is satisfied with China's response to the emergency.

"I think China is capable of containing this situation," he said, adding he is not expecting any change in traffic between the UAE and China.

China has banned tour groups from traveling abroad, as parts of efforts to contain the deadly virus.

"We’re monitoring situation and taking proper measures," Mr Al Sowaidi said, when asked about the impact of the Chinese tour ban on the UAE’s tourism sector.

The virus has so far killed more than 106 people in China, infected 4,500 people and spread to more than 10 countries, including France, Japan and the US, raising concerns about global air travel safety. The outbreak has led some global airlines to cancel dozens of flights during the peak Chinese new year travel period.

The coronavirus outbreak has rekindled global economic fears and rattled equity markets globally.

"The tourism sector remains directly in the firing line," according to a January 28 report by Forextime. "We expect the negative sentiment from Asia to spread to European markets this morning and possibly trickle down to Wall Street later in the day."

Rising fears that the virus will spread further is forcing market players to distance themselves from riskier assets with destinations like the dollar, Japanese Yen and gold becoming increasingly better bid, it said.

Updated: January 28, 2020 03:49 PM

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