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How do airlines fill capacity lost with grounding of 737 Max planes? 'They probably don't,' expert says

Last Updated Mar 14, 2019 at 12:43 pm MDT


Expert says Canadian airlines 'probably won't' fill capacity lost with grounding of Boeing 737 Max planes

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – How long will Canada’s fleet of Boeing 737 Max 8s be grounded?

That’s the question facing the country’s airlines, which fly more of the aircraft combined than almost any other nation on the planet.

At this point, there’s no real time frame for when these planes might be airborne again, with Transport Minister Marc Garneau announcing on Wednesday that the aircraft would not be allowed to fly out of, into, or over the country indefinitely.

Air Canada had been flying more than 10,000 passengers a day using it’s 20 or so 737 MAX 8s. The country has 41 of the planes in total on all its airlines.

Airline industry analyst Keith Mackey, speaking to NEWS 1130 from Florida, has been asked how airlines can fill the capacity they’ve lost with the grounding of these planes.

He says the short answer is: they probably don’t.

“They could use under-utilize equipment to make up the slack, they could use larger equipment and combine some of the smaller airplane flights,” he explains.

Mackey adds leasing aircraft is also a possibility, but many other global airlines are in the same boat so finding availability is very difficult.

“The likelihood of finding any airplanes for lease right now are probably pretty slim,” he adds.

If the investigation in to Sunday’s crash in Ethiopia goes quickly, Mackey believes the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 could be back in the air quickly, but that’s no sure thing.

“I would have suspected that by now we’d be well-along in the investigation,” he says. “But [Wednesday] the recorders were still in Ethiopia, and there’s no one in Ethiopia that has the skill or the equipment to be able to read them.”

The flight and data recorders arrived in France for analysis on Thursday.

In the meantime, it likely just means a lot of difficulties for passengers on very crowded airlines.

Next steps

If all goes well, aviation consultant Kit Darby suggests the Boeing 737 MAX 8 could be back in the air quite quickly, but it all depends on what investigators can determine after Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash.

“The preliminary information from the latest accident is limited. It appears to be similar [to the Lion Air crash in Malaysia in October 2018] but until we get the data off the data recorder and voice recorder to confirm that these two accidents are related, we don’t even know if we are dealing with the same problem,” Darby tells NEWS 1130.

“Then it depends on if it is just a software change — and a lot of things are software-driven these days — and that can happen relatively quickly. If it is a hardware issue and it’s something mechanical that has to be physically changed on the aircraft, then that would take a lot more time.”

Darby says the fix could take a few days, a few weeks or, in the worst case scenario, several months.

What kind of financial impact will that have on airlines? It depends on how many 737 MAX 8s they fly.

“Some carriers that don’t operate this type would actually benefit because they would have all their fleet available, their load factor would go up and they would become more profitable,” he points out.

“Overall, on a percentage basis, it’s still relatively small. It’s a new airplane and not pervasive all over the planet like the older models of the 737.”
However Darby agrees with Mackey that “it’s in everybody’s interest to get these airplanes back in the air as quickly as possible.”

-With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press