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AIRLINES PLAY IT SAFE

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GEORGETOWN, Guyana — Some Caribbean Community governments and airline operators have not surprisingly slapped bans on Boeing’s troubled Max-8 series aircraft from landing in the region or overflying airspaces until safety concerns about its cockpit computer systems are ironed out.

The cabinet in associate member, the Cayman Islands, was the first to not only ban the high-tech plane from entering the idyllic tourist island’s airspace but had also ordered management of Cayman Airways to ground its fleet of Max-8 planes until worldwide concerns about maverick computer software systems are convincingly dealt with. Cayman Air was operating two of this type of aircraft. Both remain on the ground.

Down south in Trinidad, the administration of Prime Minister, Keith Rowley said state-owned Caribbean Airlines, which has already placed orders for 12 of the planes to upgrade from its current fleet of 737-800 Next Generation planes, now has sufficient time to abandon the order if the situation is not rectifiedto its satisfaction.

CAL is not expecting any of the 12 new planes before December 2019. Officials this week rushed to assure Caribbean passengers that their lives are not threatened after rumors about the new planes being thrust into service began circulating in the region.

“The true facts are that CAL is not currently flying Boeing 737 Max-8 aircraft. The airline’s current fleet is comprised of 737-800’s and these are among the safest airplanes in the world,” Trinidad’s Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert told reporters.

The imbroglio about the safety of the plane comes in the wake of the second crash of this brand new plane in different parts of the world in the past five months.

Last October, a Lion Air plane crashed off the Indonesian coast just minutes after takeoff killing all 189 people on board. On Sunday, an Ethiopian Airlines plane of the exact type, crashed just six minutes after departure leaving 157 people dead. In both cases, crews had complained about difficulty controlling cockpit computer systems, leading to crashes while in the early take off phase.

As everyone awaits the readout from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, regional governments say they are being responsible and cautious about the use of and presence of the Max-8 in the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, Guyana’s civil aviation authority said that while no airline currently flies such planes to the country, an application from Caribbean Airlines to use the plane later this year has been placed on hold.

“The GCAA has taken note of the aircraft type involved, the Boeing 737 Max 8, the same type of aircraft which was involved in a similar accident less than six months before. In similar fashion, all passengers on board perished. Both crashes are under investigation however, similarities between the incidents have prompted caution among some aviation authorities and airlines”, the statement said.

Cayman Air, the first in the wider CARICOM grouping of nations to operate the Max aircraft, has also slapped a ban on the bigger sister- the Max-9- banning both from landing or overflying as of Tuesday of this week.

“Given the similarity of the two accidents, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands has decided as a precautionary measure in the public interest that operations by Boeing 737-8 MAX and Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft in the airspace of the Cayman Islands should not take place until appropriate safeguards are in place.”

Minister of Tourism, Moses Kirkconnell threw cabinet’s weight behind the temporary ban saying that “we fully support the safety measures implemented by our national flag carrier and now the CAACI.”

The ban will affect flights from Southwest, United and Jet Blue, all of which had operated the Max into the Cayman Islands in the past year.

As concerns continue to swirl, the main opposition United National Congress in Trinidad, backed authorities in suspending the order for the 12 planes calling on Minister of Transport, Rohan Sinanan “to do as other countries have done and implement a ban on airlines utilizing this particular aircraft as a precautionary measure. While the UNC understands investigations into the latest fatal crash are still being conducted, it must be noted that several airlines and aviation authorities worldwide have either grounded their Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet or have restricted the aircraft model from entering or exiting their airspace,” the party said.

Updated 4:51 pm, March 18, 2019
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