With there being no timeline for its grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 jets to return to the sky, Cayman Airways is looking at “all options” to make sure airlift here remains uninterrupted, according to Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell.
Kirkconnell made that statement on the heels of Ethiopian regulators releasing preliminary findings last Thursday on what happened leading up the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 – the second fatal Max 8 crash in about six months.
Those preliminary findings state that the “aircraft flight-control system” contributed to the plane having difficulty gaining altitude shortly after take-off, and Boeing has promised a software update that will make the 737 Max 8 “among the safest airplanes ever to fly”.
However, multiple legislators expressed scepticism Friday in the Legislative Assembly about whether Cayman Airways should maintain its two Max 8s or seek replacements. Even if the Max 8 is cleared for take-off again, Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders said, many in the community will not fly on those aircraft.
“The reality of it is that the public confidence in the 737 Max has been lost,” said Saunders. “Even if Boeing were to come back and say something else, I’ve heard people already say they’re not flying it.”
Opposition legislator Alva Suckoo asked Kirkconnell whether Cayman Airways is considering replacing its Max 8s.
The minister responded that Cayman Airways is considering “all options,” but at this point, “it would be premature to commence sourcing of alternate aircraft”, he said.
Suckoo also asked about what legal remedies Cayman Airways has to recoup the revenue it has lost from the groundings.
Kirkconnell replied that he is limited in what he can say due to the legal sensitivity of the matter, but that the Cayman Airways management team has “been in dialogue” with its attorneys, the leasing company, and Boeing about receiving financial compensation.
Cayman Airways signed a deal with Air Lease Corp. in 2016 to lease four Boeing 737 MAX 8s.
The airline took possession of the first of these aircraft in December last year and the second Max 8 arrived in Cayman on March 7, three days before the Ethiopian crash.
The next two aircraft reportedly had been scheduled for delivery in September this year and September 2020.
Kirkconnell told legislators Friday that Cayman Airways would continue to extend its contingency plans to make sure airlift to and from Cayman remains uninterrupted.
For example, the airline’s newly launched Denver route – which was originally supposed to be flown with Max 8s – will be operated by one of the airline’s older Boeing 737-300 aircraft, though it will now likely require a fuel-stop part way through the journey.
“The airline has extended its alternate schedule through May and is ready to extend it further if needed,” said Kirkconnell.