Norwegian Air grounds MAX jets

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UPDATED: Troubled Norwegian Air reversed on Tuesday its initial decision announced Monday to keep its fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets “flying as normal,” despite two deadly crashes in the past few months. Now the airline is immediately grounding all 18 MAX 8 jets, and apologizing to passengers.

One of Norwegian Air’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, parked at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen last year. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

In a press release issued Tuesday afternoon, the airline stated that it had “chosen” to park its fleet “for the forseeable future” on the recommendation of several aviation authorities.

“When aviation authorities offer advice on this, we naturally follow their recommendation,” Tomas Hesthammer of Norwegian wrote in the press release. “We apologize to passengers who will be affected by this, but the safety of our passengers and employees always comes first.”

Hesthammer had made the safety claim on Monday, too, but still felt at that time that it was still safe to fly their new Boeing 737 MAX 8s. Norwegian Air started accepting delivery of the new aircraft last year and has another 90 on order.

Everything changed on Tuesday, after British aviation authorities banned the jets from its airspace. Norwegian has a large hub at London’s Gatwick Airport, and would have been affected by the ban. Authorities in China, Indonesia, Australia and Singapore have banned the 737 MAX 8s as well. Norway had not issued a ban as of Tuesday afternoon but later reversed its stance as well, issuing a temporary ban on the aircraft in Norwegian air space.

Shares prices in Norwegian Air dove again after the grounding announcement, losing as much as 9 percent of its value after falling around 6 percent on Monday. Some of the loss has been recovered in the last hour and Norwegian’s share price was down by around 4 percent from Monday’s close later Tuesday afternoon.

Norwegian Air has been due to accept delivery of 16 more Boeing 737 MAX jets this year, and was the first airline in Europe to start flying them last year. One of its 737 MAX jets, however, developed engine trouble after taking off from Dubai in December, prompting its pilots to shut down the engine and make a controlled landing at the nearest airport, which was in Iran. That caused complications in getting the aircraft serviced, because of the US sanctions against Iran that prevented Boeing from sending parts and assistance. The jet was only recently finally repaired and released.

Norwegian officials had confirmed to state broadcaster NRK just before its grounding announcement that it had been contacted by passengers ticketed on flights using the MAX 8, and worried about flying in them.

Norwegian officials said they were now working on trying to rebook passengers scheduled to fly on MAX 8 aircraft, to limit travel disruption. Thousands of people are likely to be affected.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund