More than two years after grounding the plane, New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has approved the return of the 737 MAX to its skies. The recertification partly solves a pressing problem for local airline Fiji Airways. They have been keen to resume flights to New Zealand using the MAX.
Clearance helps open to way for Fiji Airways to resume MAX flights to New Zealand
New Zealand’s national carrier Air New Zealand does not operate the MAX. Nor do any airlines based across the ditch in Australia. Before the 2019 MAX grounding, Fiji Airways was the only airline regularly sending the MAX into New Zealand.
Since the grounding, Fiji Airways’ pair 737 MAXs have spent most of their time in storage at Alice Springs. Recently, more MAXs arrived at Fiji Airways. Despite Fiji Airways’ lack of flying, the airline said they were contractually obligated to take them.
Before the grounding, Fiji Airways used the MAXs on its New Zealand and Australian flights. Since the grounding, the travel downturn and border closures have added layers of complexity to Fiji Airways’ operations.
Fiji, Australia, and now New Zealand all now allow 737 MAXs in their airspace. But continuing travel restrictions continue in all three countries. That hampers the ability of the Fiji Airways MAXs to resume regular flying. However, it is a step in the right direction.
“We have thoroughly and independently reviewed the work undertaken by Fiji Airways to bring their 737 MAX aircraft back into service and are confident these aircraft are safe to return to operation,” says CAA Deputy Chief Executive David Harrison.
“The date for these aircraft being added to flight schedules between New Zealand and Fiji hasn’t yet been decided given the evolving COVID-19 situation.
“But passengers can be assured that no stone has been left unturned to ensure all the necessary safety improvements have been put in place so that when these aircraft return to New Zealand’s skies, they do so safely.”
New Zealand’s regulator adds layers of complexity
Adding even more complexity is that only two of Fiji Airways’ four MAXs (a fifth is due to be delivered shortly) are approved to fly to New Zealand. The regulator did not say which two planes they were. DQ-FAB and DQ-FAD remain under wraps in Alice Springs (ASP). The two recent arrivals are DQ-FAE and DQ-FAH. Both are at Fiji Airways Nadi (NAN) home airport. With the two recent arrivals factory fresh and handy for Fiji Airway’s Nadi engineers to keep an eye on, Simple Flying reckons DQ-FAE and DQ-FAH may be the two MAXs getting the CAA’s tick of approval.
“The remaining MAX aircraft will also be subject to CAA scrutiny before they are allowed to operate New Zealand,” a CAA media statement reads.
Flying curtailed but 737 MAX integral to Fiji Airways
Fiji Airways’ operations continue to be severely curtailed by Fijian Government health protocols and movement restrictions. Fiji Airways’ domestic flying operates under the Fiji Link brand. All Fiji Link flights remain canceled through to June 27.
International services, where the MAXs would normally flex their wings, are down to a handful of repatriation flights primarily designed to get people out of Fiji rather than bring people in.
Fiji Airways leases their MAXs from GECAS. It’s not a good time for the small Pacific airline to be taking new planes, but as Fiji Airways recently noted, the aircraft contractual obligations are absolute. But Fiji Airways has been able to re-negotiate and drive down monthly recurring fixed costs by approximately 50%.
Once movement restrictions ease, Fiji Airways will be keen to send the MAXs down to New Zealand. Fiji Airways sees its five MAXs are integral to the airline’s recovery. They’ll replace the airline’s aging fleet pair of Boeing 737-800 and become the core of Fiji Airline’s dozen or so planes.