Thursday 23 May 2019

Cork and Shannon passengers to be bussed to Dublin after Boeing 737 MAX 8 grounding

Boeing 737 MAX 8. Photo: Getty
Boeing 737 MAX 8. Photo: Getty

Ralph Riegel

THE grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft fleet now threatens to deprive Cork and Shannon of their direct Norwegian Airlines routes to the US for the entire summer season.

Ryanair - which has an order in place for 135 of the next-generation Boeing aircraft in its MAX 200 version - may also be unable to introduce the plane into service before late August.

The Irish airline was scheduled to accept five 737-MAX 200s, a modified version of the MAX 8, by June with a further 50 scheduled for delivery before the start of the 2020 season.

Ryanair insisted its schedules would be unaffected by the grounding as its network continues to be fully operated by its fleet of 400 Boeing 737-800 series aircraft.

Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune stressed that while all necessary safety measures should be implemented for passenger well-being, she urged airlines such as Norwegian to do everything possible to restore their critical US routes from Cork and Shannon.

Norwegian has maintained its direct US services from Dublin thanks to a replacement aircraft.

However, passengers booked with Norwegian to fly from Cork and Shannon to the US have been offered a bus service to Dublin for onward flights or a full refund.

“I believe the measures that have been taken by Norwegian are necessary to ensure the safety of passengers, which I very much welcome and am fully supportive of," Ms Clune said.

"However, passengers travelling on transatlantic flights from Cork and Shannon airports must be taken care of while the flights are not in operation from these airports."

"I think that these flights are very important for Cork airport in particular and I hope to see them back to their regular schedule once all the safety checks have been completed."

Cork Airport is now one of the fastest expanding in Europe and is on course for growth of more than 8pc in 2019. Passenger numbers were up by 10pc in February alone.

The entire global fleet of the Boeing 737 MAX was grounded following a fatal crash in Ethiopia on March 10 just minutes after the plane had taken-off.

Irish national Michael Ryan (39), a father of two and an engineer with the UN food programme, was amongst the 157 people who died in the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy.

It was the second fatal accident involving the brand new jet in five months after another Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed into the sea off Indonesia before Christmas.

The fleet was grounded for safety reasons last month after it emerged an anti-stall system may be linked to both tragedies.

While Boeing has developed a software updated for the MCAS anti-stall system involved, a regulatory briefing note has indicated that the aircraft may not be cleared for resumed service worldwide until August at the earliest.

An international committee, composed of nine aviation regulators, including the American FAA and the European EASA, will start their joint examination of the Boeing 737 MAX update by April 29 2019.

Named the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR), the committee also includes aviation authorities from Brazil, Canada, China, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Japan, and Singapore, as well as NASA.

Critically, it has now emerged that the evaluation of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 software upgrades and reviews of whether MCAS pilot training is adequate may take up to 90 days - meaning, even if all goes well, the aircraft may not be cleared for a resumption of services until August.

The ground of the 737 MAX fleet has already cost Boeing an estimated $1bn.

Norwegian was one of the world's airlines most seriously impacted by the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft with 18 planes taken out of service.

Norwegian boss Bjorn Kjos, in a letter to Ms Clune, said they had made every effort to minimise the disruption involved.

"This development at no notice has resulted in the need for an urgent, major overhaul of planned aircraft deployment," he said.

"The measures we have taken include substitution of larger Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft on some services, wet-leasing in of alternative aircraft (you will appreciate that there has been quite a run on alternative capacity in the current circumstances), securing extended-range ETOPS approval for alternative aircraft, in order to maintain services and coach transportation between Dublin, Cork and Shannon in Ireland and between Stewart and Providence in the USA to transport passengers to where our alternative flights operate from."

The Scandinavian airline had used its fleet of new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft to offer cut-price transatlantic services from Dublin, Cork and Shannon to Boston and New York over the past two years.

It service from Cork to Boston was the first regular transatlantic service ever secured by Ireland's second biggest airport - and had proved a huge success.

Dublin Airport services to US destinations such as New York and Boston have already been facilitated by a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

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