By Samisoni Pareti
Fiji Airways has bowed to international pressure by grounding its two Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft effective immediately.
“In line with the stance taken by aviation regulators in our region, and an increasing number of operators worldwide, Fiji Airways, together with the Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji, has taken the decision to temporarily ground its fleet of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft until more information is known about the cause of the Ethiopian Airlines accident,” says a joint statement from the airline and the Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji (CAAF) released a short time ago.
The statement adds: “We would like to stress that Fiji Airways, together with the Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji, continue to have full confidence in the airworthiness of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, and in the skilled and experienced Fiji Airways pilots and engineers who operate them.”
Since the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines’ MAX aircraft last Sunday, many airlines and regulators around the world took steps to ground all the MAX planes in their fleets. This was the second MAX aircraft to crash and killed all its passengers and crew in a space of five months.
Last night, the Civil Aviation Authority of Australia banned the same aircraft from its airspace, forcing Fiji Airways to fly one of its MAX plane back to Fiji this morning without any passengers.
Immediately after the crash, Fiji’s international carrier had expressed confidence in the airworthiness of the two planes it has, and vowed to continue to operate them while waiting for the result of investigations into the Ethiopian Airline crash.
Just yesterday, Fiji Airways’ Chief Pilot Captain Aaron Dean and its General Manager Safety, Security & Quality Sharun Ali issued an internal memorandum to assure airline employees of the safety of the MAX planes.
But intense pressure from other regulators and airlines including Fiji’s shadow minister for civil aviation Bill Gavoka who yesterday called on Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to order the airline to ground the aircraft forced the national carrier to change its mind.
“Since Fiji Airways commenced operating the Boeing 737 MAX in December 2018, the aircraft has proven to be reliable and efficient, and continuous flight data monitoring has not identified any issues that would give rise to a cause for concern,” the joint statement from Fiji Airways and CAAF said.
“However, out of deference to the position taken by regulators in our region, and in response to the concerns expressed by the general public, both Fiji Airways and the Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji have agreed that the most appropriate course is to impose this temporary grounding. We will continue to monitor developments closely, and this decision will be reviewed in light of any new information.”