Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) on Friday (26 February) announced that it has lifted a ban on Boeing’s 737 MAX jet, which had been grounded for almost two years following two crashes that killed almost 350 people and led to a serious shake-up in Boeing’s leadership as well as billions of dollars in losses.
While no Australian airlines currently operate the Boeing 737 MAX, two foreign airlines flew these aircraft types to Australia before the COVID-19 pandemic – Singapore-based SilkAir (now integrated into parent Singapore Airlines) and Fiji Airways. In addition to Australia, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recently issued return to service airworthiness directives for the Boeing 737 MAX.
CASA’s acting CEO and director of aviation safety, Graeme Crawford, said the initial suspension had been in the best interests of aviation safety. “CASA was one of the first civil aviation regulators in the world to suspend Boeing 737 MAX operations. We took early action based on the information we had to ensure our skies remained safe while the cause of the accidents was investigated,” Crawford said. “We have accepted the comprehensive return-to-service requirements specified by the Federal Aviation Authority as State of Design for the 737 MAX and are confident that the aircraft are safe. Our airworthiness and engineering team has assessed there are no additional return to service requirements for operation in Australia.”
There is no indication of when Singapore airlines and Fiji Airways will resume their operations to Australia. In addition to those airlines, Virgin Australia has 25 of the planes on order. Singapore Airlines and Fiji Airways will need approval to resume flying the 737 MAX from their national aviation regulators and from other authorities where they need to use airspace. Singapore’s aviation regulator has not said when such clearance will be granted. Singapore Airlines said it would continue to work with and be guided by regulators on 737 MAX operations. A Fiji Airways spokesman said it was still working with other regulators in the region, including those in Fiji and New Zealand, before returning the 737 MAX to service, according to media reports.
New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it had worked closely with counterparts in Australia and Singapore on the return of the 737 MAX in New Zealand. “The CAA will not issue a blanket approval for the Boeing 737 MAX to fly into New Zealand but will work with any future operators on a case-by-case basis to clear flight operations into New Zealand,” the CAA said in a Reuters report, noting Fiji Airways was still restricting international flights due to COVID-19.
Regulators in the United States, Europe, Britain, Canada, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates are among those that have already approved the 737 MAX’s return to flight following technical modifications and additional pilot training. Japan lifted its restrictions at the end of January following decisions by counterparts in the United States, Europe, Canada and Brazil, an official at Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau said on Friday. China was the first country to ban the 737 MAX from its airspace in 2019 and it has not indicated when it will lift the ban.