• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

Bleak future for Max 737 in Nigeria as airlines shun orders, incidents heighten

Boeing fails 33 out of 88 tests in FAA audit

The chances that the Boeing 737 aircraft would fly in Nigeria anytime soon are slim as airlines are opting for other planes.

The latest blow for Boeing’s top-selling 737 MAX aircraft came on Friday when a cabin panel blowout forced an Alaska Airlines flight to make an emergency landing.

The Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner was grounded worldwide between March 2019 and December 2020 – longer in many jurisdictions after 346 people died in two similar crashes: Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) resisted grounding the aircraft until March 13, 2019, when it received evidence of accident similarities.

Following Alaska Airlines’ incident, US regulators have ordered a temporary grounding of certain planes for safety checks. That is not as severe a move as the grounding of all MAX-family jets worldwide nearly five years ago after two fatal crashes.

About 215 737 MAX 9 jets are in service worldwide, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. Only about 171 feature the plug door that was blown out during the flight. Other models include an additional emergency evacuation door.

United Airlines found loose bolts on a number of 737 MAX 9 aircraft, it said on Monday.

It found issues related to the installation on several panels that were being inspected after the incident, it said in a statement. The disclosure raises concerns about the production process of 171 Boeing MAX jets, mostly operated by US carriers Alaska and United Airlines, that have been grounded while safety checks are made.

Already, the Boeing Max aircraft are missing from recent orders made by Nigerian airlines, despite its attractive modern functions and wide usage worldwide.

Five years ago, Air Peace made orders for 10 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft worth about $1.13 billion.

The management of Air Peace signed the agreement with Boeing Corporation of the USA for the acquisition of the planes but none of the planes have been delivered to Nigeria.

A source close to the airline said the delivery of the airplanes to Air Peace has since been stalled because of the issues with the aircraft type.

However, Stanley Olisa, spokesperson for Air Peace, told BusinessDay that the orders for Max 8 and Max 10 of the Boeing aircraft were still active but there was no date for delivery yet.

Olisa however said he could not comment on why there was no date for the delivery yet.

In 2021, Air Peace took delivery of five brand new 124-seater Embraer 195-E2 aircraft – the first of its kind in Africa. The airline became Embraer’s launch customer for this aircraft model in the whole of Africa.

These deliveries were part of the 2018 firm order for 13 E195s with purchase rights for seventeen of the same aircraft.

Air Peace recently signed another milestone deal — a firm order for five brand new Embraer 175 aircraft and a planned maintenance facility with support from Embraer to service the aircraft locally.

Ibom Air, the Akwa Ibom State-owned airline, recently announced the successful delivery of the first of 10 Airbus A220-300 aircraft ordered from the aircraft manufacturer Airbus at the 2021 Dubai Airshow.

In October last year, United Nigeria Airlines welcomed an Airbus A320 aircraft into its fleet.

Amongst these orders, there wasn’t a single Boeing Max aircraft order.

Olumide Ohunayo, an industry analyst and director of research at Zenith Travels, told BusinessDay that due to the problem the Boeing 737 Max aircraft has, the A320 has made an entry into Africa, giving subsidies and support to airlines and that is why Nigerian airlines and other African airlines are leasing the A320s.

“From leasing Airbus aircraft, airlines will familiarise with the aircraft and then begin order. This is what we have seen over the years,” Ohunayo added.

He however noted that the 737 Max has been the best short haul aircraft model over the years, adding that it is of late that the A320 began to compete with it.

“The Boeing 737 aircraft is the leader in short haul market. Although it has its issues and it is still having its issues, once all the regulatory agencies certify it, it will fly. It is a beautiful aircraft, but they need to address the issues around it,” he said.

Sindy Foster, principal managing partner at Avaero Capital Partners, told BusinessDay that while there were no active Boeing 737 Max orders in Nigeria, it may be too early to tell its future. “We need to see what happens in the coming weeks/months,” she added.

Ibrahim Mshelia, a captain and owner of West Link Airlines Nigeria and Mish Aviation Flying School, said the Max airplanes will soon be back in the air globally.

He said: “When there is a malfunction and a manufacture defect, when it is grounded, it is looked at and once everyone is okay with it, it is sent back to the air.

“The 737 Max airplanes crashed years ago because of the software problems they had. They grounded all of them and they found solution to it. Everything was tested and found okay and the planes were released back.

“This is another problem and it can happen to any airplane. It is just that it has happened to Boeing two times within a short period of time. It is not something we like to see but it is not abnormal. If airlines can afford it, the planes will be brought into Nigeria.”

Boeing shares sank eight percent on Monday as the latest setback for the jet maker has left it trailing rival Airbus after production delays hampered its recovery from a lengthy 737 MAX safety grounding in 2019.

The US FAA and Boeing declined to comment on the loose bolt reports.

“Since we began preliminary inspections on Saturday, we have found instances that appear to relate to installation issues in the door plug — for example, bolts that needed additional tightening. These findings will be remedied by our tech ops team to safely return the aircraft to service,” United said in a statement.

The Alaska Airlines pilots turned the plane around after depressurisation after the door plug tore off over the weekend. The flight returned to Portland with 171 passengers and six crew on board. No major injuries were reported even as oxygen masks deployed and personal items were sucked out of the rectangular opening where the panel had been.