Singapore is temporarily suspending the operation of all variants of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft into and out of Singapore following two fatal accidents involving the aircraft in less than five months.
The ban will take effect from 2pm on Tuesday (March 12), said the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).
The decision, which was first reported by The Straits Times, comes after a B-737 Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board.
It will affect Singapore Airlines’ regional arm, SilkAir, which has six of the jets in its fleet, as well as all other airlines that operate the plane to Changi Airport. The other airlines are China Southern Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Shandong Airlines and Thai Lion Air.
Singapore is the first country to impose a blanket ban not just on the B-737 Max 8 but all variants of the jet. It is also the first to do so for all flights operated by both local and foreign carriers.
On Monday, China and Indonesia instructed their airlines to ground all B-737 Max 8 aircraft.
In a statement posted on Facebook on Tuesday at 10.55am, Singapore Airlines said that as of Tuesday morning, all six aircraft have been grounded in Singapore and will not be returned to service until further notice. Its 17 Boeing 737-800NGs are not affected, it added.
"The safety of our customers and crew is our highest priority," the airline said.
The airline currently operates the aircraft to Bengaluru, Cairns, Chongqing, Darwin, Hiroshima, Hyderabad, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Phnom Penh, Phuket and Wuhan.
The other airlines currently operating the Boeing 737 Max aircraft to Singapore are China Southern Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Shandong Airlines and Thai Lion Air.CAAS said it is working with Changi Airport Group and the affected airlines to minimise any impact of the suspension on travellers.
It added: "During the temporary suspension, CAAS will gather more information and review the safety risk associated with the continued operation of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft into and out of Singapore."
CAAS said it is closely monitoring the situation and is in close communication with the United States Federal Aviation Administration and other aviation regulators, as well as Boeing.
It has been in regular contact with SilkAir on its Max operations since last year, it said, and has been satisfied that the airline has been taking appropriate measures to comply with the necessary safety requirements.
The suspension will be reviewed as relevant safety information becomes available, it added.
The 737 is the world’s best-selling modern passenger aircraft and one of the industry’s most reliable.
Since the Ethiopian Airlines crash, more than 20 airlines, including all China carriers that operate the plane, as well as Ethiopian Airlines and Cayman Airways - the main carrier of the Cayman Islands - have stopped flying their B-737 Max 8 jets. South Korea and India have begun a special inspection of the aircraft.
Ethiopian Airlines grounded its fleet the day Flight ET302, which was bound for Nairobi in Kenya, went down soon after it left Addis Ababa airport in Ethiopia at 8.38am local time.
Investigators have started to piece together the final moments of the doomed flight, after the plane’s flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder - commonly referred to as the black box - were recovered on Monday.
Analysis of the recorders, which contain critical information, will hopefully reveal why the B-737 Max 8 plane crashed and, perhaps more importantly, whether similar factors led to the Lion Air crash.
While a final report is not out yet, the Lion Air crash is believed to have been caused by erroneous cockpit readings that suggested the nose of the plane was tilted higher than it was.
Of the 378 B-737 Max 8 aircraft flying around the world today, about 100 belong to Chinese carriers and 20 to airlines based in South-east Asia.
US carrier Southwest Airlines has the largest fleet of B-737 Max 8 planes with 31 planes, followed by Europe’s Ryanair.Analysts said that Sunday’s crash is another blow to Boeing, which is already facing lawsuits after the Lion Air crash.
"Boeing has lost control of the timetable to provide the safe, reliable solution," aviation consultant Neil Hansford told Bloomberg.
The single-aisle B-737 family has been a huge success for Boeing, with the B-737 Max the latest version that started flying just two years ago. Last year, more than seven in 10 of Boeing’s deliveries were 737 planes.
Following Sunday’s crash, Boeing has postponed the debut of its new 777X jet, which was scheduled for this week.The Straits Times.