While some jurisdictions, including Canada and the United States, have cleared the 737 MAX to resume flying in their airspace, other jurisdictions, including Australia, are holding off. Australia was swift to ground Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX in March 2019. However, the country is taking a less speedy approach to lifting that grounding.
CASA waits to review the EASA 737 MAX decision
When Australia’s civil aviation safety watchdog, CASA, grounded the 737 MAX, it called the decision temporary and in the best interests of safety. Nearly two years later, the aircraft is back flying in North American airspace. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has also said it expects to lift the 737 MAX ban by the end of January.
A spokesperson for CASA told Simple Flying that they were watching and waiting for the EASA decision and would review that. The spokesperson said there was no definite timetable regarding the 737 MAX resuming flights in Australian airspace at this stage.
No Australian airlines operates the 737 MAX
No Australian airline operates the 737 MAX. That’s another reason why CASA is in no rush to make a decision. But two regional airlines did send the 737 MAX into Australia before they were grounded. Fiji Airways and Silk Air used the MAX on some of their Australian services. Fiji Airways supplemented their Airbus A350 services into Sydney with them. Silk Air used to send the MAXs down to both Darwin and Cairns. However, neither airline is operating any regular flights to Australia at the moment.
Following the grounding, CASA did allow both Fiji Airways and Silk Air to ferry some of their 737 MAXs to Alice Springs for storage. Silk Air now has five MAXs parked at Alice Springs, and Fiji Airways confirmed to Simple Flying they still store two MAXs there.
Virgin Australia has 737 MAXs on order, Qantas mulls possibility of a MAX order
Without any 737 MAXs in their fleets, Australia’s airlines dodged a bullet with the groundings. Before events of 2020 put waste to the best-laid plans, Qantas was eyeing new planes to replace some of its aging Boeing 737-800 aircraft. On Qantas’ radar were 737 MAXs and Airbus A320 aircraft. Qantas was due to decide on this last year but later deferred doing so. At some point, the airline will need to place an order. The Boeing 737 MAX remains a strong contender, especially if it performs well following its re-introduction elsewhere.
Local competitor, Virgin Australia, has ordered 737 MAXs. That order dates back over eight years when Virgin Australia was morphing from a cheap and cheerful low-cost carrier to a more upmarket airline. However, the wheels have since come off that plan.
Last year, after Virgin Australia spectacularly collapsed and got sold to new owners, many observers believed the airline would take the opportunity to ditch the deal. But Virgin Australia didn’t. In December, the new owners of Virgin Australia announced they would “restructure” the MAX order, reducing the order to 25 Boeing 737 MAX 10s. The first Virgin Australia 737 MAXs are now due to touch down in mid-2023.
The lack of MAXs in and around Australia, combined with a general downturn in flying, takes the pressure off CASA to recertify the MAX in the short term. While decisions made by higher profile and larger aviation safety agencies elsewhere are undoubtedly influential in CASA decision making, Australia’s well-regarded CASA will also be keen to walk its own path when it comes to recertifying the 737 MAX.