Comair, which operates kulula and British Airways in Southern Africa, has decided to remove its brand-new Boeing 737 MAX 8 from its flight schedule in South Africa.
Earlier on Monday, the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) said it was still deciding whether to ground the Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane.
Its Chinese, Ethiopian and Indonesian counterparts have already grounded Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes after 157 people died in an Ethiopian Airlines crash. The same model was involved in a crash less than six months ago in Indonesia.
The Chinese authorities said in a statement on Monday morning that it is concerned about the similarities between the two crashes. Both took place within minutes of take-off.
Comair owns the only Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane currently in operation in South Africa. The plane only started carrying passengers last week after arriving in the country at the end of last month.
It has covered routes between Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.
On Monday morning, the plane was used for an early flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, and returned the afternoon on the same route. Its next flights were scheduled for Wednesday.
Wrenelle Stander, executive director of Comair’s airline division, said neither SACAA nor Boeing has required it to remove the plane from its flight schedule.
"While Comair has done extensive preparatory work prior to the introduction of the first 737 MAX into its fleet and remains confident in the inherent safety of the aircraft, it has decided temporarily not to schedule the aircraft while it consults with other operators, Boeing and technical experts," the company said.
“The safety and confidence of our customers and crew is always our priority,” Stander said. On Monday, night, the SACAA welcomed Comair's decision.
There are currently 370 Boeing 737 MAX planes in operation.
It could take a year to establish why the Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed, aviation industry expert Linden Burns told Business Insider SA.
According to international aviation regulations, the crash investigators have to produce an initial report within 30 days. But the initial report will not reveal the cause – just the lines of inquiries that are being followed, says Burns.
A number of authorities will be part of the investigation, as well as representatives of all the different manufacturers – including the engine, he added.
So far, investigations by Indonesian and US authorities found that the Lion Air crash in Indonensia could have been caused by an update to the flight control system - which now functions differently than with previous 737 models.
This change affects the way pilots can stabilise a plane when there are erroneous meter readings. Some pilot unions said Boeing did not explain the change to them. If the pilot does not follow the correct procedure, it could cause a plane to nose dive.
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