Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority has approved the Boeing 737 MAX to return to service in its airspace. None of its own airlines operate the type, but others will be pleased to gain approval for overflights with the narrowbody aircraft.
Saudi Arabia approves the MAX
The Boeing 737 MAX is making a slow but steady return to service around the world following its 20-month worldwide grounding. Hot on the heels of Europe and Australia, Saudi Arabia has become the latest country to approve 737 MAX operations within its airspace.
The country’s civil aviation authority, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), announced yesterday that the plane would be allowed to return to service in the Kingdom. It said that the decision followed a comprehensive review which concluded it met all safety requirements for the type to operate.
The news won’t have much impact on local airlines in Saudi Arabia, as none of the Kingdom’s airlines operate or have any intention to operate the type. However, it will come as a relief to airlines who do have the type in their fleets and regularly overfly Saudi airspace. Neighboring UAE carrier Flydubai, for example, plans to have one of the world’s largest fleets of the type, and will be pleased to see the airspace open up.
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Saudi was one of the last to ban the type
Saudi Arabia was one of the later nations to ban the MAX in 2019. Although EASA and various Asian and Middle Eastern countries had banned the type from flying in their airspace Saudi Arabia did not move until later in March. That was likely made easier due to the fact none of its local airlines operated the type at the time.
Flynas, the country’s first budget airline, relies on the Airbus A320 family for its operations. With a huge order in for the A320neo and a handful of A321XLR, it looks to be staying that way for some time to come. Flag carrier Saudia similarly uses Airbus aircraft for short-haul ops. It too has plenty of neos on order from the European planemaker. SaudiGulf, too, has only Airbus aircraft.
One airline was set to buck this trend, as Jeddah-based flyadeal had signed a letter of intent for 30 Boeing 737 MAX with options for a further 20. However, following the grounding of the type around the world in 2019, it scrapped its order with Boeing. It now has an equivalent sized order in with Airbus for the A320neo family of jets.
Who is left to unground the type?
The US was first to approve the MAX’s return to service, closely followed by Brazil and Canada. Other major regulators slowly but surely followed suit, including EASA in Europe, the CAA in the UK and Australia’s CASA. Some African regulators have also issued their stamp of approval.
However, things in Asia-Pacific are moving more slowly. Singapore Airlines plans to fly the type, following the absorption of the Silk Air brand into the parent company, but will need approval from its regulator to do so.
Notably, China is yet to issue any approval for the type. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) was one of the first to ground the type in 2019, and is likely to be one of the last to reapprove the aircraft. Reporting today in Reuters suggests that things are in motion, but that CAAC plans to undertaken its own airworthiness tests to assure major safety concerns are addressed.