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Singapore suspends Boeing 737 Max flights after Ethiopian Airlines crash

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Singapore Airlines' (SIA) regional wing, SilkAir, which operates six Boeing 737 Max aircraft, will be affected by the temporary suspension.

THE Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) is temporarily suspending operation of all variants of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft into and out of Singapore, in light of two fatal accidents involving the aircraft in less than five months.

The suspension will take effect from 2pm on Tuesday, March 12.

This comes after a fatal Ethiopian Airlines jet crash on Sunday, in which all 157 people on board died. Last October, a Lion Air flight - involving the same aircraft type - also crashed near Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.

Singapore Airlines' (SIA) regional wing, SilkAir, which operates six Boeing 737 Max aircraft with a further 31 planes on firm order, will be affected by the temporary suspension.

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The Singapore-based carrier presently uses the aircraft on 12 routes, namely Bengaluru and Hyderabad in India, Kathmandu in Nepal, Cairns and Darwin in Australia, Chongqing and Wuhan in China, Hiroshima in Japan, and Asean destinations Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Phnom Penh and Phuket.

An SIA spokesman said: "We are deeply saddened by the loss of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302, and our hearts go out to those affected by the accident. SilkAir is temporarily withdrawing its Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet from service. 

"The safety of our customers and crew is our highest priority. As of this morning, all six aircraft have been grounded in Singapore, and will not be returned to service until further notice. Our 17 Boeing 737-800NGs are not affected."

It added that the withdrawal of its 737 Max 8 fleet will affect some of the airline's flight schedules, and that customers who may be affected by flight disruptions will be contacted for re-accommodation.

Customers affected by the Boeing 737 MAX 8 flight disruptions who require assistance may email SQ_support@singaporeair.com.sg with their six-character booking reference number and contact details, or contact their hotline on +65 6223 8888, SIA said. 

The airline also advised customers to update their contact details, or subscribe to a mobile notification service to receive updates to their flight status.

Separately, other airlines currently operating Boeing 737 Max aircraft to Singapore include China Southern Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Shandong Airlines and Thai Lion Air.

In a press statement on Tuesday, CAAS said it is working with Changi Airport Group and the affected airlines to minimise any impact to travelling passengers.

"CAAS has been in regular contact with SilkAir on its Max operations since last year, and has been satisfied that it has been taking appropriate measures to comply with the necessary safety requirements," it said.

The authority added that it will gather more information, and review the safety risk associated with the continued operation of the 737 Max aircraft into and out of Singapore during the temporary suspension.

"CAAS is closely monitoring the situation, and is in close communication with the US Federal Aviation Administration and other aviation regulators, as well as Boeing. The suspension will be reviewed as relevant safety information becomes available," CAAS said.

According to CAPA Fleet Database, there are 378 737 Max aircraft flying globally, of which 348 are Max 8s, and the balance are Max 9s. Of the 378 planes, 20 are in South-east Asia.

Meanwhile, China's aviation regulator has taken the preemptive step of ordering Chinese carriers to ground operations of their 96 737 Maxs - there were eight Chinese nationals on the Ethiopian flight - while Indonesia's Transportation Ministry did the same, pending airworthiness inspections.

Other airlines which have suspended operations of their 737 Max aircraft include Ethiopian Airlines, Cayman Airlines, Morocco's Royal Air Morac,Mongolian Airlines and Norwegian Air Shuttle.

Malaysia, Australia, Britain and Oman also closed their air space to 737 Max planes.

As at 1.53pm on Tuesday, shares in SIA were trading at S$9.72 apiece, up one Singapore cent, 0.1 per cent.