737Max Grounding Effect in Kona

Two airlines confirmed to have used Boeing 737 Max aircraft to fly to Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole said they’re making arrangements to minimize disruptions following federal regulators’ decision to ground the planes nationwide.

More than 40 countries already announced groundings of the aircraft, according to a report by Bloomberg, coming amid safety concerns following a crash Sunday in Ethiopia that killed everyone aboard.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday it made the decision to ground Boeing 737 Max aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory as a result of “new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today.” The grounding will remain in effect “pending further investigation” to include a review of the aircraft’s flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders.

In a message to Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau members, director of membership Karen Wataru Nakaoka said the grounding will affect a total of 59,040 seats on flights to the state throughout March.

While that number wasn’t broken down island-by-island, the list of impacted flights included three Kona routes on two airlines: Air Canada’s Kona-Vancouver flights and United Airlines’ Kona-Los Angeles and Kona-San Francisco routes.

Air Canada said it’s making scheduling adjustments to minimize disruption, including optimizing the remainder of its fleet and exploring alternatives such as accommodating customers on other airlines.

Starting Wednesday, the company made arrangements that include rescheduling wide body aircraft to serve Hawaii.

As schedule changes are finalized, customers whose flight times or numbers change should get an emailed update. That information is also available for customers in the company’s app.

Customers also can contact Air Canada call centers, and the company has a rebooking policy, space permitting, without any added fees for affected customers.

In a statement, United said it will ground its 737 Max aircraft, 14 in all, which account for about 40 flights a day.

Between spare aircraft and rebooking customers, the company said, it doesn’t expect a significant operational impact.

In a follow-up tweet, the company said customers don’t need to cancel and rebook themselves as the company will swap aircraft or automatically rebook customers.

Bloomberg reported Wednesday that in addition to United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines also operate Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

American Airlines, which has 24 Max 8 aircraft in its fleet, said it doesn’t fly the Max 8 aircraft to Hawaii.

Southwest Airlines, which said it removed its 34 Max 8 aircraft from scheduled service, told West Hawaii Today the company would be operating a 737-800 to Hawaii.

While Canadian airline WestJet’s Kahului-Calgary route was included on the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau’s list of impacted routes, that list didn’t appear to include any Kona-bound WestJet routes. An article published Wednesday by the Toronto Star made reference to a Vancouver-Kona flight on a 737 Max 8 that was canceled in accordance with an order by Canada’s government.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the soonest flights available indicate they’ll use Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

That company said in a statement it has a total of 13 Max aircraft in its fleet.

Neither Hawaiian Airlines nor Alaska Airlines lists Boeing 737 Max aircraft among their respective fleets.

Bloomberg reported that Canada’s transport minister said satellites tracked the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed minutes after takeoff near Addis Ababa and point to possible “similarities” with a Lion Air crash off the coast of Indonesia at the end of October that also involved a Max 8.

President Donald Trump is quoted in the report as telling reporters that he spoke with the U.S. Transportation Secretary, FAA’s acting administrator and Boeing’s chief executive before deciding to ground 737 Max 8 and Max 9 planes.

“Our hearts go out to all of those who lost loved ones, to their friends, to families, in both Ethiopian and Lion Airlines crashes that involved the 737 Max aircraft,” Trump is quoted as saying in the report. “It’s a terrible, terrible thing. Boeing is an incredible company. They are working very, very hard right now, and hopefully they will very quickly come up with the answer but until they do the planes are grounded and you will be hearing from the FAA directly in a little while.”

Boeing in a statement said it “continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max,” but said it supports suspending operations of its global fleet of 737 Max aircraft “out of an abundance of caution.”

Email Cameron Miculka at cmiculka@westhawaiitoday.com.

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