Malaysia Airlines should delay accepting Boeing 737 8-Max planes until report released

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KUALA LUMPUR (March 13): In light of Sunday's air crash involving a Boeing 737 Max-8 in Ethiopia, Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB) can delay the acceptance of similar aircraft until the final report of the incident is released, say local aviation experts.

Former Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) investigating officer, Captain (Rtd) Abdul Rahmat Omar Tun Mohd Haniff said it was important to know what went wrong with the 737 Max-8 model and the findings in the report which were pivotal in determining the cause of the incident.

“We still don't know if they are software or design-related flaws, or both. Until then, MAS can delay the acceptance pending assurances in the form of corrective actions based on the report. MAS has every right to cancel its orders. The thing is, we still don't know what is at fault,” he told Bernama here today.

On Sunday, it was reported that a Boeing 737 Max-8 plane belonging to Ethiopian Airlines crashed shortly after take-off, killing all 149 passengers on board.

Another plane of the same model was involved in a similar mishap less than five months ago, when a Lion Air flight crashed into the sea near Indonesia, with nearly 190 people on board.  

Following the crash in Ethiopia, on Monday, Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali said he would request sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd, the sole shareholder of MAB, to review the airline’s aircraft purchase agreement with Boeing Co.

Azmin said the agreement between MAB and Boeing must be reviewed in light of safety concerns arising from the crashes, involving planes manufactured by the company.  

MAB in a statement said it did not currently have any B737 Max plane in its fleet and it was still too early to make any comment as the cause of the incident had yet to be ascertained.

“We have, however, written to Boeing seeking for more technical details ahead of the delivery of our order expected in 2020. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the tragedy,” it said.

Two years ago, MAB confirmed the order for 25 737 MAX jets with Boeing, on top of an option for another 25 aircraft, which the airline has yet to exercise.

Following the latest crash involving 737 Max-8, at least 12 countries including China, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia have grounded or barred this jetliner from their airspace due to safety concerns.

Abdul Rahmat pointed out that despite the recent crash, MAB also was in need of new aircraft to fit in its business model and he believed the decision was made based on the 737 Max model.

“Any change of aircraft type would change financial projections. It would be a huge loss for Boeing if answers are not found quickly. Boeing really has to remedy the faults when found in order to bring back the confidence of its customers,” he said.

Another local aviation expert, Prof Dr Mohd Harridon Mohamed Suffian opined that perhaps there would be due diligence by MAS to further analyse the situation of purchasing the Boeing 737 Max.

“MAB has experts who are proficient in the technicalities of flight and engineering and they would be able to assess whether the risk is manageable.

“If a crash does occur, it would incur costs and downgrade one’s profit. It's perhaps advisable to talk to Boeing and the regulator that approved the aircraft to ascertain the safety and integrity of the aircraft and to ensure if further training is required if certain alterations or modifications are done to the aircraft,” he said.

The Universiti Kuala Lumpur (UniKL) test pilot said it could be a wise move to review the purchase of the 737 Max pending greater assurance from the manufacturer in terms of safety, flight operations, and risk mitigation.

He drove home the point that a huge amount of monetary capital would  be involved in the purchase, thus it was deemed necessary to get a full picture pertaining to the technicalities of the aircraft since MAS was seeking an optimum return on investment and a healthy return on investment would drive the company forward.

When asked what would happen if MAB cancelled its order or breached the agreement, Harridon said usually there would be a financial penalty if a company cancelled an order but negotiations could be held in order to lessen the penalty or to replace the existing order with other versions of the aircraft.

“Ultimately, both parties have to agree which solution is suitable for each. On a positive note, it’s a norm for aircraft manufacturers to enhance the features of their aircraft in lieu of the emergence of issues,” he added.