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SilkAir changes its aircraft to Kathmandu following Singapore’s decision to halt all 737 Max 8 planes

  • Buddha Air, which has been exploring Max 8 for its operations out of Pokhara, says it hopes Boeing will have solved the problem by the time it is ready for jet operations.
- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Mar 12, 2019-

Singapore-based Silk Air swapped the aircraft it operates in and out of Kathmandu following the country’s decision to temporarily suspend operations of all variants of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft two days after the fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines.

The Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 MAX 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 on board. The same model of aircraft, flown by Lion Air, had crashed off the coast of Indonesia in October last year, killing all 189 on board.

According to Everest Express Tours and Travels, Silk Air’s general sales agent in Kathmandu, the airline has changed the type of aircraft it used to operate flights from Singapore to Kathmandu following the company’s decision to ground all 737 MAX aircraft flying in and out of Singapore. By Tuesday night, 25 different airlines have grounded their Max 8 aircraft.

“Silk Air’s flight to Kathmandu was operated by Boeing 737 Next Generation on Tuesday,” said an official of Everest Express Tours and Travels. “The suspension of Boeing 737 MAX will not affect its regular flight schedule in Nepal.”

According to Nepal-based travel agencies, Silk Air started Boeing 737 MAX operation in Nepal’s sector on October 4, 2017. Silk Air currently flies six weekly flights on the Kathmandu-Singapore sector and has planned a daily flight from April 2.

Nepal’s civil aviation regulator, Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, declined to comment on the issue. There are no other airlines currently operating 737 MAX 8 aircraft in and out of Kathmandu.

Boeing rolled out the fuel-efficient MAX 8 in 2017 as an update to the already redesigned 50-year-old 737, and has delivered 350 aircraft out of the total 5,011 orders by the end of January, according to Reuters.

In a statement posted on the airlines’ Facebook page, Silk Air said the Max 8 aircraft will not be returned to service until further notice, but its 17 Boeing 737-800 Next Generation aircraft, commonly referred to as 737-800NG, will not be affected.

Although Nepali carriers do not operate any Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, Buddha Air has been exploring 737 Max 8 aircraft model for its future international operations.

On February 4 last year, two high-level officials from the Boeing Company had arrived in Kathmandu to discuss the feasibility of operating Boeing aircraft with Buddha.

“We have been planning to operate Boeing 737 Max 8 from Pokhara International Airport,” said Birendra Bahadur Basnet, the managing director of Buddha Air. While he acknowledged that the aircraft may have some problems since it is still fairly new, he is confident that Boeing will fix any issues by the time Buddha Air is ready to operate its jet fleet. “It definitely will have a solution by the time we begin operations from Pokhara.”

Boeing has said that it stands by the safety of the Max 8, and was planning a software update as well as changes to its flight controls and training guidelines.

In mid-January 2013, during the first year of the operation of Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the company’s wide-body jet airliner, at least four aircraft suffered from electrical system problems stemming from its lithium-ion batteries, eventually forcing many airlines to ground their planes. The airlines fixed the problem and the aircraft was back in the skies by mid-March in the same year.

“So for now, we are not worried,” Basnet said.

Buddha Air is yet to decide which model is suitable for the company to fly from the Pokhara International Airport, which is currently in its construction phase. According to Basnet, Buddha Air will be flying to key Indian cities from Tribhuvan International Airport by March 2020, after acquiring two narrow-body jets. By August 2021, the airline plans to add two more jets and begin operations from the international airport in Pokhara.

The construction of the airport in Pokhara is expected to be completed by July 2021.

Published: 12-03-2019 10:05

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