As the investigation into the tragic Ethiopian Airlines crash continues, operators around the world have grounded the Boeing 737 Max, and many countries, including the UAE, have banned the aircraft from flying into their airspace.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US – the authority figure that certified the latest version of Boeing’s best-selling jet as legal – followed the world to ground the jets on Wednesday, just one day after issuing a release that said: “Our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding of the aircraft.”
Aeromexico acted ahead of the FAA announcement to become the first North American operator to stop flying the plane, and Canada followed soon after. With the FAA update, all other north American airlines have now followed suit. The FAA statement called for a temporary grounding of Boeing 737 Max aircraft operated by US airlines or in US airspace with no indication as to when the ban might be lifted. The developments mean that the three biggest 737 Max 8 operators — Southwest, American and Air Canada airlines — have now stopped flying the jets around the world.
What about Flydubai?
In the UAE, Flydubai is the local carrier most affected by the ban. It has grounded all of its 737 Max 8 flights. In a statement, the low-cost carrier said: “Flydubai is adjusting its schedule to minimise disruption to passengers and will operate flights with its fleet of Next-Generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft.”
With a fleet of 11 Boeing 737 Max 8 and 2 Boeing Max 9, the low-cost airline is combining routes to ensure that all destinations previously served by Max 8 or 9 jets will now be flown by 737-800 NGs.
This has resulted in cancellations, with up to 15 flights per day set to be cancelled over the next few days. A spokesperson for the company said the airline would be contacting all affected passengers directly.
Divided opinion on the Max
The incident has divided passenger opinion. For Mary Keenan, a New Zealand expat and former flight attendant based in Dubai, the impact will not alter her upcoming travel plans until a conclusion into what caused the Ethiopian Airlines crash has been reached. “Boeing aircraft are known to be among the safest in the world and, at this point in time, there is no evidence to prove that the crashes occurred because of the same fault or error,” said Keenan.
Rob Arrow, independent frequent flyer, travel writer and hotel consultant, has a different opinion. "As a frequent flyer, I tend to take for granted the safety of aircraft equipment these days and don't usually consider whether I'm on an A330 or a B787. I usually consider the airline itself, however with this incident being specific to an actual model, I would currently not fly on one and reroute or amend my schedule to take a different type of aircraft.
"Coincidence does occur, but with the similarities [between the Ethiopian crash and the Lion Air crash in October] it has unnerved me and put me off flying on a B737 Max until the airworthiness of the model is clarified."
What routes will be most affected from the UAE?
Passengers flying with Flydubai to various destinations are likely to be affected, but those travelling to Kuwait, Lebanon, Moscow and Prague are among the routes most likely to face immediate disruption as these routes are currently serviced by at least one daily Flydubai 737 Max service.
At the time of writing, cancellations on Flydubai flights to Kuwait, Amman, Bahrain, Baghdad, Basra, Beirut, Muscat, Prague, Riyadh and Moscow were active.
The cancellation of up to 15 Flydubai flights per day will affect the following destinations:
The airline is advising passengers to check the status of any coming flights.
With 33 countries grounding or banning the aircraft, including Oman, the UK, South Africa, India, Australia, France, Indonesia and Singapore, passengers travelling to these destinations may also face some delays or disruption. Reconfirming your travel plans before travel is advisable.
What’s the difference between the 737 Max and the alternative planes?
Passengers that were booked to travel on the 737 Max 8 or 9, will now be booked onto one of Flydubai’s Next-Generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
While both jets are part of the Boeing 737 Next Generation fleet, the Max is heavier than the 737-800 NG and comes with a different software system, which is now coming under scrutiny in the ongoing investigation.
The older 737-800 NG is also equipped with technology that allows pilots to manually control the plane by pulling back on the control column but, according to a report by the New York Times, this function was disabled when the new Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) operating system was introduced on the Max 8.
Can I change my travel plans?
If you’re unsure about travelling while investigations into the cause of the crash are still ongoing you can, of course, change or cancel your flight. However, at present you’ll have to pay any corresponding fees, as airlines are not currently offering waivers for changes, which is something many allow during a heavy storm or similar.