Recertification paved way for aircraft’s return to commercial service
A huge relief came the way of many airlines, particularly those in Africa, following the re-certification of B737 MAX by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) more than a year after the aircraft were grounded around the globe.
The production line of the 737 Max is back up and running after six months of dormancy.
The moves represent significant steps forward for the beleaguered company as it tries to regain its footing and restore its reputation after the twin catastrophes of the 737 Max scandals and the coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled airline traffic and left dozens of planes parked on tarmacs for months.
For Africa’s largest airline, Ethiopian Airlines, the crash of Flight 302 brought undue attention to the region and Africa’s airline operations, its future aspirations, the impending plans to open itself up for private investment, as well as its decade-long relationship with the US aircraft manufacturer, Boeing.
The accident was also accompanied by a new and modern challenge not only for Ethiopian, which in its 70-year history has survived through political turbulence, a transition from a socialist to a market-based economic system and intense global aviation competition impelled by technological advances and mergers.
The recertification paved the way the way for the Boeing 737 MAX to return to commercial service. It took 20 months to complete. During that time, FAA employees worked diligently to identify and address the safety issues that played a role in the tragic loss of 346 lives aboard Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.
Meanwhile, African airlines are bracing up to putting back the airplane into service as Ethiopian Airlines operates six of the aircraft type.
Commair, which operates a British Airways franchise and a low-cost carrier service, Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc, Mauritania Airlines, and the first in Africa to receive the Max 8 model of the 737, in December 2017, Kenya Airways, are among carriers that are planning to bring back their grounded aircraft into operations since March 2019.
As more African nations move to liberalise air travel, the B737MAX was seen as an ideal plane for regional and long haul operations and had invested heavily in the fuel efficient airplane with the aircraft becoming the best selling equipment in the world.
Many airlines had planned to revive their national airlines with B737MAX. Nigeria’s new entrant, Green Africa Airways which plans to begin operations early next year had in 2018 announced a commitment for up to 100 B737MAX airplanes, in what would be the largest ever Africa’s aircraft agreement.
A top official of the airline, who spoke to New Telegraph on condition of anonymity, said the aircraft would form the bulk of the carrier’s fleet when it starts domestic, regional and intercontinental routes next year.
Nigeria’s flag carrier airline, Air Peace, had in 2018 placed an order for 10 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.
The privately-owned airline announced the deal during a signing ceremony in Lagos, where it is based. No delivery schedule for the new order was released but the Chairman of the airline, Mr. Allen Onyema, recently said that his firm had not withdrawn its strong order.
He said the airline planned to use the aircraft to launch many of its international routes granted it by the Nigerian government.
Despite the immediate difficulties, demand for air transport is still expected to rise in the coming decades. The B737MAX will remain strong in demand. But it remains to be seen how quickly they can pick up the pieces and to begin to compete with the best aircraft type.