Another airline has delayed taking delivery of its Boeing 737 MAX. Papua New Guinea’s Air Niugini has released a statement saying it has amended its contract with Boeing. Delivery of the first of four MAX aircraft will no longer take place this year. However, the official reason for the delay is not due to the aircraft’s controversial and well-publicized grounding.
Air Niugini has become the latest airline to delay taking delivery of any Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The airline joins a growing list which includes Norwegian Air International, Malaysia Airlines and Virgin Australia. Air Niugini was due to take delivery of the first of four MAX aircraft later this year but a statement from the airline this week has confirmed it that delivery won’t happen until 2024.
Boeing halted the production of the MAX jets earlier this month. Once the aircraft has been approved for flight again, production will take some time to restart. The airlines which have not yet delayed their delivery dates may be forced to do so by Boeing’s production schedule.
What’s the reason?
According to Air Niugini’s statement, the reason for the delay is that a later delivery date will “give the airline more time to complete a broader review of its fleet plans”.
The airline has said it could well switch its MAX order to the smaller Embraer E2 jet. Apparently, other Boeing products are also being considered by the airline. The reassessment of the fleet will “determine if the MAX is still appropriate for Air Niugini, or whether other Boeing products would better suit” the airline’s future needs.
Air Niugini’s Managing director Alan Milne was quick to stress that Boeing was not being completely overlooked saying that,
“Boeing remains a valued and long-standing supplier of aircraft to Air Niugini, and we are committed to working closely with them to satisfy our evolving future fleet requirements”.
But despite insisting that the decision to delay was simply to consider other Boeing products, the airline can’t deny it’s looking elsewhere. A carefully worded and brief mention of other manufacturers names Airbus as an option. Not a big surprise. The airline may not be so set on a Boeing product after all.
Considering the statement makes no mention of potential safety concerns about the grounded MAX, it ends on a slightly strange note.
“A number of other Boeing customers, including Virgin Australia, have already postponed the delivery of 737 MAX jets since the model was grounded globally in March 2019 following two fatal crashes.”
But whatever the airline decides, it will need to replace several aircraft in coming years. The airline’s seven Fokker 100s have an average age of over 27 years and its seven Fokker 70s have an average age of almost 24. The airline mentions replacement roles for these aircraft as part of the reason for evaluating its potential future requirements. It also operates a 737-700 which is 21 years old and another 737-800 which is 16. Both aircraft have been rumoured to be up for replacement.
Perhaps the Air Niugini really is just evaluating its fleet requirements. It’s press statement certainly includes enough to imply doubt behind the reasoning. What do you think? Is the airline just having a rethink? Or has it joined the list of airlines with long-term concerns about Boeing safety?