Govt. defers commissioning of new Samoa Airways Boeing 737 MAX 9

By Joyetter Feagaimaali'i 13 March 2019, 12:00AM

The Samoa Government has deferred the commissioning of Samoa Airways' new Boeing 737 MAX 9 until it gets clearance from regional aviation regulators including America's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Selafi Purcell, told the Samoa Observer that the Government will not take the risk and has deferred the commissioning of the new plane until it gets the green light from regional aviation regulators.

“The crash of the two brand new 737 MAX 8 within the span of five months has shaken the world of Aviation. And unless we  have received the clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration, the New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority and Australia's Civil Aviation Safety we will not bring that aircraft to Samoa,” he said. 

The decision by the Samoa Government coincides with media reports that close to 10 countries have ordered the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft, following Sunday's fatal crash in Ethiopia which killed 159 people and the tragic Lion Air Flight 6IO last October when 189 perished in a crash in Indonesia. Both crashes involved a Boeing MAX 8 aircraft, less than six months after they were released to their operators by American aircraft manufacturer Boeing. 

Lautafi said the similarities in the aircraft model with Samoa Airways' new Boeing MAX 9 compelled them to take precaution. 

“The crashes involve the 737 MAX 8 and because ours is a MAX 9, we know there are equipment similarities between the two; so in the meantime we have to take all precautions as the issues that may have affected the MAX9 around the world. Hence the delay and unless the investigations are done and we get clearance nothing will happen.” 

When the Minister was asked about the MOU that the Government signed with the US firm Air Lease Corporation, he said the safety of the travelling public in Samoa is paramount. 

“The safety of our customers and crew is supreme and the MOU means nothing to us when we are dealing with the safety of our people. We will deal with them accordingly and when the time comes for that. If they can’t understand that, well too bad for them, we are not going to bring that plane to Samoa. This is a sad reality of aviation and this has shaken the world of aviation.” 

While the two aircraft crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia last October were tragic and unfortunate, the Minister said it was an opportunity for the Government to rethink its plans in terms of aircraft safety. 

“I am saddened that unless an accident occurs, that is the only time the issues will then only be fixed and the proper attention is given, but that shouldn’t be the case. From our perspective the plane is not coming in any time soon until we have been assured by the FAA that this plane is safe.” 

Samoa Airways currently has a team of pilots and engineers at the Air Lease Corporation compound in Seattle undergoing training for seven weeks, but the Minister said Sunday's crash in Ethiopia compelled them to change their plans. 

“They have been doing test flights and with the incident, we anticipate they will remain there for another seven weeks. I found out on Monday and I called the CEO and told him that it is time to rethink our strategies, but we will not bring that aircraft to Samoa unless they have the clearance of the FAA. 

“I also met with the Prime Minister and it was agreed upon that despite our plans, we must not hinder our decision from doing what is right. Again safety of the public is paramount, and unless we are given the assurance by not only the FAA, the New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority and Australia's Civil Aviation Safety; Authority (CASA) we will not bring down that aircraft, as long as it takes.” 

Lautafi said it is important for the public to know that the Government will not make a decision that will be regretted and they will not take their chances. 

"No Government will make decision that will give even a slight chance for any bad to happen, we are going to take all precautionary measures no matter how long it takes.” 

The lease contract for Samoa Airways' Boeing 737-800 with the Italian aviation company Neos will expire April 14, 2019 with the Minister revealing that the Government is negotiating with the company to extend its contract.

“But now, we are negotiating to extend that contract and if they agree lucky for us, but if they opt out that means, we have to look elsewhere," he said. 

Lautafi said some of the Neos fleet include Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, which have now been grounded and they might not extend the lease contract. 

“We are also looking to Fiji to get another Boeing 737-800 but that was slated for August, 2019 and hopefully they can accommodate our request. If that does not come through, we will have to look elsewhere,” he added. 

According to the FAA, there are 387 of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft flying worldwide, including 74 registered in the US. The Boeing 737 MAX is considered to be important to Boeing, accounting for 47 per cent of its commercial aircraft delivery in 2018 and over 90 per cent of its unfilled orders as of January this year. 

As of Tuesday evening, various foreign aviation regulators and airlines had decided that after the two crashes, the two Boeing model aircrafts should be grounded pending further investigation. Aviation officials have announced in the European Union, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates have all grounded the planes. Out of the 59 operators that fly the new Boeing 737 MAX 9, at least 30 have parked. New Zealand and Australia have also suspended the operation of Boeing 737 Max aircraft to or from their respective countries. 

By Joyetter Feagaimaali'i 13 March 2019, 12:00AM

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