Comair backtracks, grounds crash-prone plane

By Dineo Faku for IOL

In an about-turn, JSE-listed aviation and travel company Comair late yesterday bowed to public pressure to ground its Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

Earlier in the day, the company said it would continue flying the aircraft and that its engineers remained “vigilant”.

Wrenelle Stander, the executive director of Comair’s airline division, said in a statement issued on the Stock Exchange News Service after the market had closed, that Comair had decided to remove the 737 MAX from its flight schedule, “although neither regulatory authorities nor the manufacturer has required it to do so.

“While Comair has done extensive preparatory work prior to the introduction of the first 737 MAX into its fleet, and remains confident in the inherent safety of the aircraft, it has decided temporarily not to schedule the aircraft while it consults with other operators, Boeing and technical experts.

“The safety and confidence of our customers and crew is always our priority,” Stander said.

The safety of the aircraft is in question following Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines passenger jet bound for Nairobi, Kenya.

The aircraft, carrying passengers from 33 countries, crashed shortly after take-off, killing all 157 people on board. The aircraft is the same model as the aircraft that crashed into the sea off Indonesia in October last year, killing 189 people.

Comair became the first South African carrier to own a 737 MAX 8 when it received delivery of the aircraft last month.

The aircraft was the first of eight 737 MAX 8s that were scheduled to be delivered between 2019 and 2022 as the company embarks on a drive to replace its ageing fleet of long-haul aircraft.

Earlier in the day Comair, which operates British Airways and low-cost carrier, had said it would continue to monitor the investigations by the relevant authorities and was in close contact with Boeing and the South African Civil Aviation Authority.

Comair said yesterday that the 737 MAX 8 was one of the most commonly used aircraft in many airlines today and that, by November 2018, 330 737 MAX 8 aircraft were in operation globally.

Consumers took to social media earlier yesterday to say they would stop using Comair after the company said it would not ground its 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

Global regulators acted fast on the news. The Chinese aviation regulator yesterday ordered domestic airlines to ground all 96 of the aircraft that they operate, while Ethiopian airlines followed suit.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said yesterday that the company and Mango, its low-cost brand, did not operate any B737 MAX 8 aircraft.

“Mango operates B737-800 NG aircraft, a different aircraft generation from the MAX, and these aircraft have been operating for the past 18 years without any major issues,” Tlali said.

For the six months to December, in a year dominated by low economic growth, Comair lifted its revenue to R3.3billion, from R3.1bn in the corresponding period last year.

Comair shares closed 2.11 percent lower at R5.11 on the JSE yesterday.

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