Cayman bans Max aircraft from the skies

Cayman Airways’ first Boeing 737 Max 8 lands in Cayman in November last year. The airline took possession of a second Max 8 last week. Both jets are now grounded. - Photo: Taneos Ramsay

The Cayman Islands Aviation Authority has banned the Boeing 737 Max aircraft from operating in Cayman airspace amid growing safety concerns around the model.

Cayman Airways was among the first airlines in the world to ground its jets following an Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday morning which killed 157 people. It was the second fatal accident involving a 737 Max 8 aircraft in less than six months.

On Tuesday, U.K. regulators said they were temporarily banning the aircraft, which has only been in commercial use since 2017, from U.K. airspace. Cayman authorities, which are not directly impacted by the U.K. ruling, took the decision to follow suit later on Tuesday.

The Cayman Islands Aviation Authority issued a directive to pilots and operators of both the Boeing 737 Max 8 and the Boeing 737 Max 9 not to conduct any flights in Cayman Islands air space after 5 p.m. Tuesday.

It cited the incidents involving the model in Indonesia and Ethiopia and stated, “Given the similarity of the two accidents, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands has decided as a precautionary measure in the public interest that operations by Boeing 737-8 MAX and Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft in the airspace of the Cayman Islands should not take place until appropriate safeguards are in place.”

Though Cayman Airways had already taken the decision not to fly the planes until more information about Sunday’s incident becomes available, several U.S. carriers have continued to fly the Max aircraft.

American Airlines, SouthWest Airlines and United Airlines are among the carriers operating in Cayman that have Max 8 aircraft in their fleet and could potentially be impacted by the directive. SouthWest has previously used the Max 8 on its Cayman routes.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said Tuesday, “We fully support the safety measures implemented by our national flag carrier Cayman Airways and now the CAACI.”

The decision by various countries and airlines to ground the aircraft comes amid a growing passenger backlash against the aircraft model, the latest off the Boeing production line.

Ethiopia, Singapore, China, France, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia were among the countries that had suspended the 737 Max as of press time Tuesday.

The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement that it had taken the decision because there was not enough information about the cause of the crash. “As we do not currently have sufficient information from the flight data recorder we have, as a precautionary measure, issued instructions to stop any commercial passenger flights from any operator arriving, departing or overflying U.K. airspace,” the U.K. authority said.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration was still standing by the aircraft Tuesday.

Southwest Airlines, the largest operator of 737 Max 8s in America, is offering passengers scheduled to fly on one of the planes the chance to change their bookings.

Senators Mitt Romney and Elizabeth Warren were among a handful of senior U.S. politicians to call on the FAA to ground the planes. President Donald Trump did not make any direct statement on the issue, but remarked on Twitter that “airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly.”

Boeing said in a statement that it had full confidence in the 737 Max: “We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets. We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets. The United States Federal Aviation Administration is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”

The Max 8 is Boeing’s fastest selling aircraft ever. The company’s share price dropped more than 5 percent Monday in the aftermath of the crash.

Cayman Islands residents and tourists applauded Cayman Airways’ quick decision to ground the Max 8 aircraft in the wake of the tragedy that claimed 157 lives in Ethiopia.

Commenting on the Cayman Compass Facebook page and in other web forums, travelers overwhelmingly endorsed the decision.

Most commenters said the airline had made the right call to suspend the use of the aircraft until more information is available. “I think Cayman Airways made a good call. A lot of my family fly Cayman Airways and I’m so glad that until the problem can be resolved I don’t have to worry about them being on the Max 8,” Erlene Hudgins, wrote in a post in the Compass Facebook page.

Charlotte Hicks agreed. “I’m avoiding Max 8 flights until this is sorted. Definitely the right call,” she said in a post.

Robert Smith was another traveler to give credit to the airline for the decision.

“I applaud the abundance of caution our great national carrier has shown in light of recent events. Cayman Airways has an exceptional safety record and this decision shows one reason why. Thank you CAL. The engineers will sort this out soon enough and we’ll be back in the new birds soon,” he wrote on the Compass Facebook page.

Another poster, Patrick Murphy, summed up some of the fears among tourists: “I’m flying down in December and really do not want to be on these planes … just saying.”

Editor’s note: This story has been changed from the original, which erroneously included JetBlue as one of the airlines operating Boeing 737 Max 8s. JetBlue does not have Max 8s in its fleet.

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