Today, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 took flight in Europe. Dressed in Air Italy livery, the two-year-old aircraft took an hour and a half flight across the Alps and into Hungary. The aircraft landed in Budapest safely, but what on Earth was it doing?
An unusual flight
Eagle-eyed plane spotters may have noticed something very strange in the skies above Europe today. A Boeing 737 MAX 8 took off from Milan this afternoon, flying over the alps and parts of Austria before landing at Budapest.
Operating under flight number IG7031, the two-year-old Boeing 737 MAX 8, registered EI-GFY, took off from Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) at 13:25 this afternoon. It flew for just over an hour and a half, landing at 15:02 at Budapest (BUD).
This flight was notable for so many reasons. For a start, that’s a grounded aircraft. What is it doing flying over Europe when the FAA is yet to certify it as safe to fly? Secondly, it’s wearing Air Italy livery, an airline that went bankrupt some months ago. Thirdly, what does it need to go to Budapest for anyway?
There’s a raft of questions raised about this Air Italy flight, which we’ll attempt to answer here.
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How can the MAX be flying when it’s grounded?
As we previously noted, some 737 MAX have been allowed to fly in order to move to storage locations or for other operational reasons. We saw Icelandair flying its MAX aircraft for storage in the more comfortable climate of Spain last year. American Airlines too had moved some MAX for maintenance purposes.
However, given the alarming nature of the fault on these aircraft, and with the FAA yet to give the all-clear for it to fly, these are not normal flights. Firstly, the pilot has to be specially trained, including on the MCAS issue. No passengers are allowed on board, and flight crew is kept to a minimum.
Next, the aircraft has to be flown slowly, at a low altitude and with flaps deployed. As we can see from the flight track of IG7031, the aircraft was flown at a maximum altitude of 18,000 feet, with an indicated airspeed of around 230 knots. That’s more than 200 knots slower than the usual cruising speed.
Finally, in order to operate the flight, permission has to be sought for every country’s airspace into which the aircraft will fly. For this trip, permission would have been necessary from Italy, Austria and Hungary.
Why Air Italy and why Budapest?
As most will know, Air Italy was wound up in February this year, with a rather sudden and unexpected cessation of operations. The airline has not flown commercially since, leaving a few airplanes going spare around its base in Milan.
At the point of its closure, only five aircraft remained in the fleet. One Boeing 737-800 has found a new home with ASL Airlines Belgium, but the other four, three of which are MAX 8s, were still hanging about in Italy.
According to AeronewsX, the 737 MAX aircraft are heading out to Budapest for maintenance and storage, until another airline takes up the planes. These MAX’s are young aircraft and, once cleared to fly, will likely be a bargain for another operator somewhere.
Captain Riccardo Criscuolo piloted the MAX, and shared on his LinkedIn page his feelings about the trip. He noted, with sadness, that it would be the last time he wore his Air Italy uniform.
Although it might be Captain Ricardo’s last flight for Air Italy, it’s not the last time the livery will take to the skies. Over the coming days, the other two 737 MAX will leave Milan too, also bound for Budapest.
Did you spot the MAX in the skies today? Let us know in the comments.