A huge relief came the way of many airlines, particularly those in Africa following the re-certification of 737 MAX by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) more than a year after the aircraft was grounded around the globe.
For Africa’s largest airline, Ethiopian Airlines, the crash of Flight 302 brought undue attention to the region and Africa’s airline operations, its future aspirations, the impending plans to open itself up for private investment, as well as it’s decade-long relationship with the US aircraft manufacturer, Boeing.
The accident was also accompanied by a new and modern challenge not only for Ethiopian, which in its 70-year history has survived through political turbulence, a transition from a socialist to a market-based economic system, and intense global aviation competition impelled by technological advances and mergers.
The recertification paved the way for the Boeing 737 MAX to return to commercial service. It took 20 months to complete. During that time, FAA employees worked diligently to identify and address the safety issues that played a role in the tragic loss of 346 lives aboard Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.
Ethiopian Airlines operates six of the aircraft type. Comair (South Africa) which operates a British Airways franchise and a low-cost carrier service, Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc, Mauritania Airlines, which was the first in Africa to receive the 737 Max 8 in December 2017, Kenya Airways are among carriers that are planning to bring back their grounded aircraft into operations since March 2019.
As more African nations move to liberalize air travel, the 737 MAX was seen as an ideal airplane for regional and long haul operations, and airlines invested in the fuel-efficient airplane, and it became the best selling equipment in the world.
Many airlines had planned to revive their national airlines with 737 MAX. Nigeria’s new entrant, Green Africa Airways which plans to begin operations early next year had in 2018 announced a commitment for up to 100 737MAX airplanes, in what would be the largest ever Africa’s aircraft agreement. A top official from the airline who spoke to AirInsight on condition of anonymity said the aircraft would form the bulk of the carrier’s fleet when it starts domestic, regional, and intercontinental routes next year.
In 2018 Nigerian carrier Air Peace placed an order for 10 737 Max 8 aircraft. The privately-owned airline announced the deal during a signing ceremony in Lagos, where it is based. No delivery schedule for the new order was released but the chairman of the airline, Mr. Allen Onyema recently said that his firm had not withdrawn its order. He said the airline plans to use the aircraft to launch many of its international routes granted it by the Nigerian government.
Despite the immediate difficulties, demand for air transport is still expected to rise in the coming decades. The 737 MAX will remain strong in demand.