Flydubai plans to return its entire fleet of 14 Boeing 737 Max aircraft to the skies within the next two months, following extensive work to reactivate planes that have been grounded for two years.
The airline will initially operate the aircraft to routes close to its hub, starting with Iran and Pakistan, Mike Evans, senior vice president of customer experience, brand and communication, told an online media briefing on Tuesday. Destinations to Europe are "definitely on the cards" once more countries approve the jet, he said.
The first five of the jets will resume commercial flights on April 8, Mr Evans said. Flydubai will restart 737 Max passenger flights with service to Sialkot in Punjab, Pakistan, on Thursday.
"We're very happy to have the aircraft back, we're very happy to fly on it, I personally will fly on it as soon as I possibly can, as I'm sure my colleagues will," Andrew Glover, flydubai's head of maintenance, told reporters. "You can rest assured that we have every confidence in this aircraft."
The airline is one of the world’s biggest customers of the industry workhorse. Flydubai idled its 737 Max fleet in March 2019, when the model was grounded globally following two deadly crashes within the span of five months. The airline is resuming its 737 Max operations after the UAE lifted a 23-month safety ban on the jet in February.
About 12 countries within flydubai's network have not yet cleared the narrow-body jet's return, including Russia and India, Captain Patrick Gonzenbach, the company's senior vice president of flight operations, said.
"The important thing to know here is that we'll only ever fly in airspace which the Max is approved to operate within," he said. "We've got plenty of destinations that remain on our network."
As part of safety requirements outlined by the UAE aviation regulator, flydubai has 233 pilots who have completed additional training on the 737 Max through computer-based ground training and full-flight simulator training, Mr Gonzenbach said.
Its remaining 522 pilots are expected to complete the additional training by the end of the year, he said.
The budget airline, which has ordered 251 Max jets to pursue ambitious regional expansion plans, reached an interim settlement agreement with Boeing last year to compensate for the grounding of its Max fleet.
Asked about the delivery schedule for its remaining 737 Max planes on order, Mr Glover said the airline is focused on returning its 14 Max jets to the skies and that "the question of deliveries is not on the table at the moment".
Asked whether the levels of air travel demand during the Covid-19 pandemic justified adding more planes, Mr Evans said the grounding of its 737 Max jets has shrunk flydubai's fleet to 2014 levels and the return of these airlners supplements its fleet and provides the opportunity for more fuel-efficient flights.
The airline plans to continue operating its older 737 Next-Generation planes for the next 8 to 10 years before eventually replacing them with the Max jets, Mr Glover said.