Am I flying on a 737 MAX?

Flight desks all around the globe are being swamped with this particular question for the past few days.

Am I flying on a 737 MAX?

Responding to requests, some like the Southwest Airlines allowed passengers to re-book at no charges, which, however, is not the case with several others like the American Airlines which demands a charge. The latest news, however, is that many of the pilots and flight crew have grown increasingly cautious about the make of their ride following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 on Sunday which killed all 157 passengers and crew.

Voicing support, the Airline Personnel Union (APFA), which represents American Airlines employees, has told its members not to board a 737 MAX 8 if they do not feel safe. Even though, the US President Donald Trump also weighed in with a tweet on Tuesday saying: “Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly.” “Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT,” he wrote, referring to the prestigious university.

Trump later Wednesday announced a plan to ground all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft amid intense international and political pressure following the second deadly crash in less than five months. “We’re going to be issuing an emergency order of prohibition regarding all flights of the 737 MAX 8 and 737 MAX 9,” Trump told reporters the White House.

Will it affect the Gulf?

The news has also pushed Civil Aviation authorities in the Middle East to high alert with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Oman banning  Boeing’s 737 MAX  jet from their airspace. The UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority said the move was a “precautionary measure aimed at protecting public safety,” state news agency WAM reported. Budget airline flydubai said it had grounded 13 of its aircraft and would operate flights using alternative Boeing jets in its fleet.

Flydubai, in a statement, confirmed that it had grounded its fleet of 11 MAX 8 and two MAX 9 aircraft following “Flydubai is adjusting its schedule to minimise disruption to passengers and will operate flights with its fleet of next-generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft,” a spokesperson said. “Where there are flight cancellations flydubai will contact passengers directly.” The spokesperson added: “Flydubai continues to be in touch with the manufacturer and regulator.”

Saudi unaffected

Saudi Arabia does not have Boeing 737 MAX planes in its own aircraft registry, an official with the civil aviation authority. “The skies of the kingdom are clear of this type of planes,” he said.

Kuwait bans

Kuwait also banned the aircraft because “it seems that this type of airplane is facing a technical problem,” said Imad Jalaoui, deputy head of the country’s aviation safety department. “We are waiting for information from the manufacturing company that confirms the safety of the plane,” he said. The authority said that “the operation of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft have been suspended for all flights including overflights until further notice.”

Oman suspends

Oman announced earlier Tuesday it would temporarily suspend operations of the 737 MAX aircraft, in a Twitter post by Muscat’s Public Authority for Civil Aviation. The sultanate’s national carrier, Oman Air, has five  Boeing MAX aircraft in its fleet, according to the airline’s website. Oman Air’s statement said that it is currently rescheduling flights affected by this decision. It will inform passengers of all the flights to be cancelled, Oman News Agency (ONA) reported. The company has called on its passengers to follow up updates via its website or contact the Oman Air’s Communication Centre.

Egypt bars all 737s

Egypt said yesterday it would bar all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from its airspace. The aviation ministry said it was banning the model from “taking off and landing ” at Egyptian airports or “passing through” its airspace. “The civil aviation authority took this necessary precaution to ensure the safety of passengers,” it said in a statement. 

The widening action against the aircraft has also put pressure on Boeing to prove the 737 MAX is safe, and the company has said it is rolling out flight software updates by April that could address issues with a faulty sensor. The 737 MAX has four variants --  MAX  7,  8, 9 and 10 -- distinguished by the number of passengers they can carry. 

The MAX 8 costs $ 121.6 million at list price and last year made up a third of Boeing’s profits. By the end of January, 4,661 of the planes had been ordered, representing approximately 80 percent of the company’s orders. The manufacturer produces 52 of the planes each month, and planned to increase that monthly pace to 57 this year, key to the goal of delivering 895 to 905 aircraft this year.