Aviation officials suspend use of Boeing 737 MAX for all flights in and out of Hong Kong

Planes on the tarmac of Hong Kong International Airport. Photo via AFP.
Planes on the tarmac of Hong Kong International Airport. Photo via AFP.

Hong Kong aviation authorities announced this afternoon that they are suspending the use of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft for flights in and out of Hong Kong, joining a growing list of countries and airlines to ground the planes following two crashes involving the specific model in relatively quick succession.

The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) had already clarified yesterday that no Hong Kong-based airlines operated 737 MAX aircraft as scrutiny of the model intensified. Today’s suspension is expected to affect at least two airlines, India’s SpiceJet and Russia’s Globus Airlines, which have recently operated flights into Hong Kong using the jets.

“As stated in our press release issued yesterday (March 12), the CAD has been closely monitoring the developments, the investigation progress and the information from relevant aviation authorities,” a CAD spokesman was quoted as saying in a statement today. “Having regard to the latest situation, the CAD has decided to temporarily prohibit operation of Boeing B737 MAX aircraft into, out of and over Hong Kong. The temporary prohibition will take effect at 6pm Hong Kong time on March 13 and continue until further notice.”

Concerns over the model were most recently thrust to the fore when an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed just minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport on Sunday, killing all 157 passengers, including a UN program officer from Hong Kong. A Lion Air plane of the same model crashed into the sea under similar circumstances in Indonesia in October.

Noting that the US Federal Aviation Authority — the body that certified the 737 MAX — had affirmed its airworthiness and that investigations were still ongoing, the CAD spokesman said today that the suspension “is solely a precautionary measure to ensure aviation safety and protect the public.”

The CAD said it has contacted SpiceJet and Globus, with both airlines saying they would switch to different aircraft for flights to Hong Kong in order to comply with the suspension.

Some two-thirds of the 737 MAX 8s currently in use by airlines have already been grounded, the New York Times reports, with the EU, China, Indonesia, Australia among the many countries to suspend their use.

The US is one of the few major markets where they have not yet been suspended, with the FAA saying its review of the aircraft was ongoing.

The Times also reported today that two pilots in the US had previously filed incident reports saying they had experienced “flight control problems” in the aircraft when switching to autopilot.

The problems bore similarities to the sudden automatic descent that led to the Lion Air crash in Indonesia. The pilots in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, meanwhile, had also reported “flight control problems” just before their plane went down.

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