Cayman Airways grounds its 2 new jets

UPDATED MARCH 11, 7 PM: Cayman Airways has canceled a planned “christening” event to celebrate the arrival of its second Boeing 737 Max 8 jet and temporarily grounded the aircraft amid safety fears following the second fatal crash of the model in less than six months.

The national carrier was one of several airlines worldwide to suspend use of the new jets, which only came into commercial use worldwide in 2017, following a fatal crash involving an Ethiopian Airlines jet on Sunday.

Cayman Airways is in the process of making adjustments to its flight schedule following the decision.

The long-term implications for the airline’s plan to replace its aging fleet of four Boeing 737-300 aircraft with the new model were not immediately clear.

Fabian Whorms, CEO of Cayman Airways, said the airline had taken the decision to put safety first and suspend operations of the new planes until more information is available.

“We are just taking it one day at a time. We have to find out what happened and take it from there,” he said.

“We have had two events that appear similar with brand-new planes and until we know more, we are not flying them.”

There were no immediate announcements about the flight schedule but Mr. Whorms said the airline was working to minimize the impact on passengers.

The longer reach of the new jets enabled the airline to launch a nonstop route to Denver, Colorado, earlier this month.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed shortly after takeoff from the Addis Ababa airport Sunday morning, killing all 149 passengers and eight crewmembers. The plane had been in service for less than two months.

The tragedy was the second crash in five months involving the 737 Max 8 aircraft, the latest model off the Boeing production line. A Lion Air jet went down in similar circumstances shortly after take-off in Indonesia last October, killing 189 people.

Cayman Airways was among multiple airlines, including all Chinese state-owned airlines, Ethiopian Airlines and South African carrier Comair, to ground the aircraft model following Sunday’s crash.

The first Boeing 737 Max 8 in the Cayman Airways fleet comes in to land at Owen Roberts International Airport in late November last year. The second Max 8 arrived last Thursday. Both planes are now temporarily out of service. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Several major airlines, including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, which serve routes to the Cayman Islands, were continuing to operate the aircraft as of Monday.

Southwest Airlines, which operates 34 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft and has reportedly used the model on its Cayman routes in the past, issued a statement saying, “We have been in contact with Boeing and will continue to stay close to the investigation as it progresses. We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of our entire fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737 aircraft, and we don’t have any changes planned to 737 MAX operation.”

Norwegian Airlines, Air Italy and WestJet are among the airlines that continue to operate the Max 8 aircraft.

An investigation into the cause of the crash in Addis Ababa is being led by Ethiopian authorities coordinating with teams of experts from Boeing and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

In a statement Sunday evening, Cayman Airways CEO Mr. Whorms said the airline and the Civil Aviation Authority would be monitoring the investigation.

“While the cause of this sad loss is undetermined at this time, we stand by our commitment to putting the safety of our passengers and crew first by maintaining complete and undoubtable safe operations, and as such, we have taken the decision to suspend operations of both our new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, effective from Monday, March 11, 2019, until more information is received,” he said.

“We offer our valued customers our continued assurance that all prudent and necessary actions required for the safe operation of our Max 8’s will be accomplished before the aircraft are returned to service.”

There is currently no clear information about the cause of the Ethiopia crash and no evidence, as yet, of a direct link with the cause of the Indonesia incident. However, the fact that both flights took place on a new model aircraft that saw its first flight less than two years ago has caused alarm.

“It’s highly suspicious,” Mary Schiavo, an aviation analyst and the former Inspector General of the U.S. Transportation Department, told CNN. “Here we have a brand-new aircraft that’s gone down twice in a year. That rings alarm bells in the aviation industry, because that just doesn’t happen.”

In a separate incident this weekend, a Cayman Airways plane suffered minor damage when it was struck by a fuel truck at Miami Airport on Saturday evening. The plane has been repaired and is back in service.

Cayman Airways’ new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in Seattle before arriving to Grand Cayman

ORIGINAL: Cayman Airways has suspended use of its new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, following the second fatal crash of the model in less than six months.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, operated by a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, crashed shortly after take-off from the Addis Ababa airport Sunday morning, killing all 149 passengers and eight crew members.

“While the cause of this sad loss is undetermined at this time, we stand by our commitment to putting the safety of our passengers and crew first by maintaining complete and undoubtable safe operations, and as such, we have taken the decision to suspend operations of both our new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, effective from Monday March 11, 2019, until more information is received,” said Cayman Airways President and CEO Fabian Whorms in a statement issued Sunday evening.

Mr. Whorms said Cayman Airways is working with Boeing Corporation and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands to monitor the investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines flight.

The suspension of the airline’s two Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft will mean flight schedule and capacity changes in coming days. The airline launched its route to Denver, Colorado, on March 2 aboard the Max 8 plane.

“We offer our valued customers our continued assurance that all prudent and necessary actions required for the safe operation of our Max 8’s will be accomplished before the aircraft are returned to service,” he said.

This is the second time Cayman Airways has responded to safety concerns about its recently purchased aircraft, the first of which arrived late last year. The second plane arrived from Seattle this week.

The company reassured the public in November that the Boeing 737 Max 8 was safe, following a fatal Lion Air flight on Oct. 29.

“The recent accident in Indonesia should not be considered as a reference for comparison with present and future operations at Cayman Airways,” Mr. Whorms said in the November statement, adding, “Outside of the Lion Air incident, the Boeing 737 Max aircraft model has accumulated hundreds of thousands of hours of safe operations with multiple operators.

“Today, there are well over 200 Boeing 737 Max aircraft in operation around the world with a large percentage being operated by major North American airlines that operate to and from Grand Cayman. Cayman Airways has had decades of safe operations with Boeing aircraft and we will always have safety as our absolute highest priority.”