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Comair reverses course and grounds its sole Boeing 737 MAX 8 after Ethiopian crash

Only hours after initially indicating that it would keep its currently only operational Boeing 737 MAX 8 single-aisle airliner in service, South African private-sector airline group Comair announced on Monday evening that it was grounding the aircraft. This action followed the fatal crash on Sunday of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8.

“The safety and confidence of our customers and crew is always our priority,” said Comair airline division executive director Wrenelle Stander in the statement announcing the grounding of its 737 MAX 8. “Safety remains our foremost priority and we will not compromise on the safety of our crew and our customers,” affirmed the airline in its original statement.

In its latest announcement, the airline pointed out that the grounding of the aircraft had not been required either by the regulator or the manufacturer. Comair still had confidence in the 737 MAX 8, but was consulting with Boeing, other operators of the type, and technical experts.

The original statement described the Ethiopian accident as a “heartbreaking tragedy”. It extended its sympathies to the loved ones of those who had died. All 157 passengers and crew perished when the Ethiopian aircraft, only a few months old, plummeted to the ground near Bishoftu, some 60 km south-east of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

This was the second crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 within five months. The previous one, involving an aircraft of Indonesian carrier Lion Air, cost 189 lives. The 737 MAX 8 only entered revenue service during 2017.

Ethiopian Airlines grounded its 737 MAX 8s after the accident, as did Cayman Airways. They have since been joined by Aeromexico, Aerolíneas Argentinas, and Gol (Brazil). Civil aviation regulators in China, Indonesia, Mongolia, and South Korea ordered all 737 MAX 8s operated by airlines in those countries to cease operations, pending the outcome of the accident enquiry or inspections of the aircraft. Singapore has banned 737 MAX 8s from its airspace.

Other countries currently continue to allow 737 MAX 8s to operate. The US Federal Aviation Administration has stated that it believes the 737 MAX 8 is airworthy, despite the crashes.

Comair has ordered eight 737 MAX 8s, of which the first one was delivered late last month and the second will be delivered later this month. The airline pointed out that, as of last November, 330 737 MAX 8s were in operation around the world.