Flydubai Limits European Flights Due To 737 MAX Groundings

We often talk about how the grounding of the MAX is affecting operations right now; how airlines are dealing with reduced capacity today. But what about future plans? At the recent AviaDev conference, we heard how flydubai’s plans to launch a new route were scuppered by the MAX grounding, almost certainly one of many that the airline was planning.

The MAX grounding put a stop to flydubai’s European expansion. Photo: flydubai

The MAX grounding stopped flydubai’s Lithuanian plans

The 737 MAX grounding has had far-reaching impacts on airlines all over the world, that much is well known. However, issues like this can often affect other aviation businesses, for example, airports.

At the recent AviaDev conference, we heard from an airport operator just how operational issues of airlines can become a challenge on the route development side too. Justas Rinkevičius, Route Development Manager, Lithuanian Airports, told how he was inches away from signing an agreement with flydubai to operate to his airport when the proverbial excrement hit the fan.

ustas Rinkevičius, Route Development Manager, Lithuanian Airports, at AviaDev Europe. Photo: AviaDev

Justas explained,

“We’ve been speaking to Middle East carriers for some time about the possibility of launching a direct flight in between Lithuania and the Middle East. In this case, it was flydubai who expressed interest. It seemed we were so close to having the deal and shaking hands on it. Suddenly, well we know what happened to the 737 MAX aircraft and due to that there was no commercial viability to start those flights.”

While this is just one airport and one route, it shows how the impact of the 737 MAX has really been felt. For flydubai, its decision not to begin service to Vilnius was unlikely to have been in isolation. Who knows what other route discussions were taking place that then had to be scrapped as the MAX was unviable?

Couldn’t flydubai just use another aircraft?

Other than its 13 grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, flydubai operates a fleet of 43 737-800s. Some of these are approaching 10 years old, and were due to be returned to the lessors at the end of 2019. However, with the MAX grounding showing no signs of ending just yet, it’s likely the airline will continue to operate these aircraft at least into the first quarter of next year.

Without the MAX, flydubai’s entire fleet is 737NGs. Photo: flydubai

So, couldn’t the airline have launched their existing 737s on the route? Not easily, as Justas explained,

“NG aircraft can make it to Vilnius from Dubai, but there are some load restrictions, so that brings even more challenges to the airline to operate that route.”

While the maximum range of the 737 (5,436km) puts Vilnius within its radius from Dubai, that’s only possible with a load of 162 passengers. Flydubai’s 737s are either in a one class configuration of 189 economy passengers or in two classes, with a combined total of 174 passengers, meaning they would need to fly with empty seats in order to make the trip.

Will flights begin once the grounding is lifted?

While nothing is in place (that deal never got signed and sealed, at least not quite), Vilnius is keen to secure a Middle Eastern connection once the MAX is back in service. Justas said,

“Ideally, once we are out of the MAX issues, hopefully by the New Year … I hope that we’ll be having that service quite soon.”

In response to that optimistic outlook, Thea Gents, Network Development Manager at Tallinn Airport, gave a cheeky indication of Estonia’s own desire to have a Middle East service, adding “unless we get there first.”

Flydubai’s MAX could still come to Lithuania, maybe as soon as next year. Photo: flydubai

Boeing is still confident that the MAX will return to service, at least in the US, before the end of 2019. Hopefully, European agreement will follow close behind. If it does, we could soon be seeing flydubai on the runway at Lithuania’s Vilnius Airport.

You can watch the entire panel session on AviaDev’s YouTube channel here. Simple Flying are pleased to be working with AviaDev for their forthcoming Africa route development conference next year. You can find out more about this here.