Flydubai confident in Boeing 737 Max comeback as 'safest' plane, CEO says

Carrier sees fuel prices as more important factor than Max grounding

Flydubai, one of the biggest customers of the Boeing 737 Max, is confident the jet will make a comeback as the “safest” plane in the skies following a series of regulatory checks, the carrier’s chief executive said.

About 17 per cent of the carrier’s total flights are impacted by the grounding of its Max fleet but factors such as fuel prices are a bigger concern than the Max issue, Ghaith Al Ghaith, Flydubai’s chief executive, told reporters on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai on Sunday. Fuel prices between $60 to $65 per barrel would mean a “balanced performance” for the airline, he said.

“We are full of confidence that the plane will be back and will return as the safest plane in the world because it will undergo many procedures,” Mr Ghaith said. “Fuel has a bigger impact than anything else such as, in our case, the Maxs.”

The Boeing 737 Max has been grounded globally following two fatal accidents involving the jet model in Indonesia and Ethiopia within a span of five months. Flydubai, which ordered 250 of the re-engined model, grounded its fleet of 13 Max 8 and Max 9 jets following directives by the UAE aviation regulator. In February, the budget carrier posted its first annual loss since it began operations, citing a "challenging" year with increasing fuel costs and unfavourable currency movements.

Mr Ghaith said it is difficult to determine the impact of the Max groundings on its first-half financial results because the period of the grounding is still ongoing.

The airline’s first quarter overall performance was  “good” compared to the same period last year, he said without providing details.

“As for the future, it depends on what happens with the plane resuming service,” he said. “We are confident we can cope with this situation.”

Flydubai is among the UAE national carriers that fly to the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, which has been rocked by several suicide bombings on churches and hotels. The country is popular with travellers from the Arabian Gulf and has been named Lonely Planet’s top travel destination for 2019. Sri Lanka had built a reputation over the past decade as a stable and laid-back destination in a region fraught with political tensions.

“Of course aviation is always impacted by such events and the tragic events in Sri Lanka has impacted some bookings,” he said, without providing details. “It’s minimal compared to those who have lost their lives.”

“It’s usually a short-term impact in these situations because people have confidence that governments are doing the necessary and hopefully Sri Lanka will make a comeback, it’s a beautiful country,” he said.