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Indonesia may ground 737 Max until 2020

Jakarta

INDONESIA has signalled that it may ground Boeing Co's 737 Max until next year, underscoring the challenges faced by the US planemaker as it races to get its fastest-selling jet back in the air after two fatal crashes.

Even when the US Federal Aviation Administration clears the plane, Indonesia will make its own decision after reviewing the proposed fixes, Director General of Civil Aviation Polana Pramesti said in Jakarta on Monday. Pilots in the country, where the first 737 Max crashed when a Lion Air plane plunged into the Java Sea, will undergo more stringent training before they are allowed to fly the jet, she said.

All in all, there are "lots of issues" and it is unclear whether the plane will be able to fly in Indonesia this year, she said. "I can't predict whether we will keep using the aircraft."

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The comments underscore how far Boeing has to go before the 737 MAX returns to the skies globally, even as the biggest US exporter finalises an update to a software system implicated in both crashes. The chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines Co, the largest operator of the Max, said last week he was hopeful the jet could return to service this summer.

Boeing won't comment on the Indonesian regulator's decision about the Max, a company spokeswoman in Singapore said, reiterating that it has completed updating the software, the associated simulator testing, and the engineering test flight. Boeing will work with the FAA to schedule its certification test flight and submit the final documentation.

Officials from China, Canada and the European Union have signalled that they intend to independently review changes to the Boeing planes before restoring flights. South Korean authorities are also said to be making their own decision.

Though Indonesia isn't as large as China or Europe, South-east Asia's biggest economy is still a key regional aviation market as the government is planning the construction of 25 airports as part of an ambitious proposal for more than US$400 billion in building projects over the next five years.

There's more to why Indonesia has a big say when it comes to Boeing's infamous plane. Two of the country's carriers are among the biggest customers of the aircraft.

"Boeing has to assure us, the regulators, that the aircraft is safe," said Ms Pramesti, the first woman to head Indonesia's civil aviation authority. "They also have to regain confidence from the pilots and the airlines, then educate the Indonesian customers." BLOOMBERG