Australia has given clearance for Singapore Airlines’s SilkAir to store its six Boeing 737 Max aircraft in the country, as the global grounding of the jet continues following two deadly crashes within the past 12 months.
SilkAir has provided flight plans and the first aircraft is expected to arrive in Alice Springs, central Australia, from Monday, according to Peter Gibson, a spokesman at the Australian government’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (Casa).
The aircraft will be flown by experienced Boeing pilots using a “flight profile which ensures there can be no activation of Mcas,” Mr Gibson said, referring to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System feature linked to the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people.
The pilots have also received training in recovery actions in case an Mcas-related event occurs, Mr Gibson said. The Australian Casa regulator has worked closely with aviation regulators in Singapore and Indonesia to review and coordinate the ferry flights, he said.
It is still unclear when the Max 737 will resume scheduled flights as investigations by various authorities around the world are ongoing. Casa said it is following flight profiles for ferrying the aircraft in the US, Canada, and Europe.
In one California facility, the cost of storage runs to about $2,000 a month for a plane, according to an industry veteran. Meanwhile, while regulators contemplate whether the planes can safely return to the skies, workers in a California airplane-storage yard keep a careful vigil against earthier concerns. Crews have sealed 34 Southwest Airlines jets against the Mojave Desert’s sun, wind and sand, as well as insects and birds that can creep into wheel wells and engine air inlets.
Southwest declined to discuss the expense, but one industry veteran said such sojourns run about $2,000 (€1,830) a month for each plane — a small but critical cost amid Boeing’s many looming financial penalties.
The attention lavished now on the planes will help determine how fast the Max get back in the air once a worldwide grounding is lifted. Designed to ferry throngs of travellers, the young jets’ only daily visitors these days are technicians who draw fuel samples to scout for bacterial contamination.
Once a week, Southwest mechanics spool up the big turbofans, boot up flight computers, and extend and retract flight-control surfaces such as wing flaps. “Planes are meant to be flying and being used,’’ said Tim Zemanovic, who used to own an Arizona storage park and estimated monthly storage costs, which include labour and materials. “You’ve got to keep them that way even when they’re in storage,’’ he said.
The care extends to almost 500 grounded Max planes around the world, a total that includes about 100 factory-fresh jets that can’t be delivered to customers because of the flying ban, which began in March after the second deadly crash in five months.
Managing aircraft upkeep on such a scale is unprecedented, as Boeing grapples with a crisis that has already lopped $41.5bn (€38bn) off its market value. The maintenance costs are just the start of Boeing’s financial exposure. The Chicago-based planemaker also faces an estimated $1.4bn bill for airlines’ cancelled flights and lost operating profit if the Max fleet is still grounded by the end of September, said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst George Ferguson.
Boeing’s stock of planes could balloon by nearly $12bn by the end of September if regulators don’t act and 737 production continues at the current pace, Mr Ferguson said. “They can’t keep building and parking planes indefinitely,” he said. “We don’t think it will get to that, but it’s going to take a lot of cash to park those in the desert.”
As Boeing finalises paperwork to certify a redesign of flight-control software linked to the two disasters, executives are laying detailed plans for the Max’s eventual return.