Flydubai turns to Airbus as fate of Boeing 737 Max remains uncertain

Carrier is seeking compensation from Boeing for its grounded 737 Max fleet

Emirates and Flydubai Chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum speaks to reporters at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, UAE April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar
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Flydubai, the second largest customer of the now-grounded Boeing 737 Max jets, is in talks with Airbus for an order of the competing A320 Neo narrow-body model in the absence of a timeframe for the return of the troubled Maxs to the skies.

The low-cost carrier is seeking compensation from Boeing for its grounded 14 Boeing 737 Maxs and believes the US planemaker’s communication about fixes on the jet can be improved, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the carrier’s chairman, said at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai on Monday. Flydubai, which operates an all-Boeing 737 fleet, has ordered 250 of the re-engined narrowbody model.

“That gave me an option to talk to Airbus to see what exactly will happen because you have to understand until today we don’t have a definite date when this aircraft will be flying,” Sheikh Ahmed told reporters. “I cannot just not do anything about it.”

Flydubai joins carriers such as Norwegian Air in demanding compensation from Boeing, who is facing mounting costs and a crisis of confidence in its Max jets after the model was involved in two deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia within a span of five months. Flydubai grounded its fleet of 14 Maxs following directives from the UAE aviation regulator in March. The narrowbody aircraft is the workhorse of airlines, especially low-cost carriers.

Sheikh Ahmed declined to say when Flydubai would decide if it will pursue a replacement order nor would he disclose the amount of compensation that Flydubai would seek.

“I have to ask, it’s my right,” he said. “I didn’t ground those 14 aircraft because I wanted to do it. Even if I wanted to fly it I won’t be able to because nobody will allow it over their airspace.”

The grounding came at a cost for Flydubai, causing “a disturbance and a number of shrinking of routes”, he said.

The airline wants to leave the option open to modify its Max order to A320 Neos in order to forge ahead with its growth plans, he said. A decision will depend on when the aircraft will be fit to fly and the size of the compensation.

“We will act within the contract we have today,” he said.

“Flydubai has been and continues to be a valued customer, and we are sorry for the disruption this situation has caused them. We are focused on earning their trust and supporting all of our customers around the world in every way possible to ensure complete confidence in the 737 Max and a safe return to commercial flight,” a Boeing spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

Several customers of the Max are reconsidering their orders amid escalating concerns of the jet's safety. Saudi Arabia's low-cost airline Flyadeal will decide "within weeks" if it will proceed with its existing order of 30 Max jets, its chief executive Con Korfiatis told The National on Sunday.

Communication with Boeing “could be better” as Flydubai wants know more about the Max’s system programming, pilot training, when the jet will resume service and measures introduced to fix the jet, Sheikh Ahmed said.

“There’s still areas that were not answered yet, I don’t want really the delay to continue,” he said.

Boeing is working on a software upgrade to fix the 737 Max jet and new training for pilots that must be approved by regulators before the aircraft is re-certified to resume flying.

The 737 range has been in operation since 1967 and is Boeing's most successful jet commercially. The 737 Max 8 is one of the smaller jets in Boeing's Max family of re-engined narrow-body jets.