Tui vows to maintain flying programme as UK grounds 737 Max

Tui Airways vowed to maintain its flying programme using alternative aircraft after the UK aviation regulator joined others around the world in grounding the Boeing 737 Max.

The tour operator’s airline is the only UK carrier to operate the Max 8 with five in its fleet and a sixth originally due to be delivered this week.

The in-house airline is drafting in other aircraft to ensure holiday flights are not disrupted.

Meanwhile Norwegian Air boss Bjørn Kjos has apologised to passengers for any disruption and said the airline will bill the aircraft manufacturer for costs incurred.

The action by the Civil Aviation Authority came in the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 disaster which killed 157 people at the weekend – less than six months after a similar aircraft operated by Lion Air crashed in Indonesia.

The CAA’s instructions to stop any commercial Max 8 passenger flights from any operator arriving, departing or overflying UK airspace meant that two Turkish Airlines flights bound for Birmingham and Gatwick had to turn around.

The airlines using the new generation Max type into the UK include Icelandair, Lot Polish Airlines and Norwegian.

The edict from the CAA means that the Max 8 has been banned in more than 40 countries, including Ireland, China, Hong Kong, Australia, India, France, Germany and Singapore.

But the US Federal Aviation Administration has so far refused to follow suit, saying yesterday that there was “no basis” to order the aircraft to be grounded.

FAA acting administrator Daniel Elwell said: “The FAA continues to review extensively all available data and aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boeing 737 Max.

“Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action.

“In the course of our urgent review of data on the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crash, if any issues affecting the continued airworthiness of the aircraft are identified, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action.”

Tui said: “Tui Airways can confirm that all 737 Max 8 aircraft currently operating in the UK have been grounded following the decision from the UK regulatory authorities.

“Any customers due to fly home on a 737 Max 8 from their holiday will be flown home today on another aircraft.

“Customers due to travel in the coming days will also travel on holiday as planned on other aircraft.

“The safety and wellbeing of our customers and staff has remained our primary concern.”

Low cost carrier Norwegian, which has 18 Max 8s in its fleet, confirmed it will not operate any flights of the aircraft type until further notice.

“We remain in close dialogue with the aviation authorities and Boeing, and follow their instructions and recommendations,” the airline said.

Norwegian has more than 110 Boeing 737–800 aircraft in its fleet, which are not affected by the temporary suspension.

Acting chief operating officer Tomas Hesthammer said: “In response to the temporary suspension of Being 737 Max operations by multiple aviation authorities we have taken the decision to not operate flights using this aircraft type until advised otherwise by the relevant aviation authorities.

“We would like to apologise to customers for any inconvenience caused, however, safety will always remain our top priority.”

Boeing had delivered 350 of the Max 8 model out of 5,011 orders by the end of January. A small number of Max 9s are also operating.

Ryanair has ordered 135 Max aircraft plus options for 75 more and is not planning to change delivery of the aircraft.

The Irish no-frills carrier is due to take delivery of its first Max in April, followed by two in May and two in June. A further 50 are due to enter service by summer 2020.

Chief executive Michael O’Leary told RTE in Ireland: “We wouldn’t take any action at the moment.

“We need to wait and see what the outcome of the investigation will be.”

British Airline Pilots Association general secretary Brian Strutton said: “Balpa welcomes the precautionary action of the CAA in stopping commercial passenger 737 Max aircraft from arriving, departing or overflying UK airspace.

“Safety must come first.

“It is too early to know the cause of the latest crash and it is vital that air accident investigators carry out a thorough investigation to identify the cause so that measures to prevent future accidents can be put in place.”

Abta said in a statement shared on social media: “Following the tragic accident involving Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 the Civil Aviation Authority has taken the decision to stop all Boeing 737 Max passenger flights from operating in UK airspace.

“For those customers who are booked to fly imminently on this particular aircraft model and have booked directly with the airline, then you should contact your airline to see if an alternative flight is available. If not, you would be entitled to a full refund for the cost of your flight.

“For customers whose flight is part of a package holiday, it is your travel company’s responsibility to make alternative arrangements.

“Package holiday customers would be entitled to a full refund of the cost of the holiday if the alternative offered caused a significant delay to the trip.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Some passengers may be breathing a sigh of relief that the regulator has taken precautionary action to ground Boeing 737 Max planes in the UK but they should be aware that they could still end up on one of these aircraft on their next journey if it involves a transfer in another country.

“Given the level of publicity about this issue, UK airlines who have sold tickets with codeshare partners operating these planes should consider informing passengers who might be affected in advance and giving them the option to switch to another route with a different aircraft for free.

“If there are flight cancellations or delays caused by the grounded aircraft, this is likely to be deemed extraordinary circumstances which would mean you are not entitled to compensation – but you may still be entitled to a refund or rerouting and assistance such as meals, refreshments, hotel accommodation or transfers.”

At least nine British passengers were travelling on the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft that crashed on Sunday.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 took off from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia for Nairobi in Kenya, killing all passengers and crew on board.

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