KAILUA-KONA — Two airlines confirmed to have used Boeing 737 Max aircraft to fly to the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole said they’re making arrangements to minimize disruptions following federal regulators’ decision to ground the planes nationwide.
More than 40 countries have already announced groundings of the aircraft, according to a report by Bloomberg, coming amid safety concerns following a crash in Ethiopia on Sunday.
The Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday it made the decision to ground Boeing 737 Max aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory as a result of “new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today,” and said the grounding will remain in effect “pending further investigation” to include a review of the aircraft’s flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders.
In a message to Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau members, director of membership Karen Wataru Nakaoka said the grounding will affect a total of 59,040 seats on flights to the state throughout March.
While that number wasn’t broken down island-to-island, the list of impacted flights included three Kona routes on two airlines: Air Canada’s Kona-Vancouver flights and United Airlines’ Kona-Los Angeles and Kona-San Francisco routes.
Air Canada said it’s making scheduling adjustments to minimize disruption, including optimizing the remainder of its fleet and exploring alternatives like accommodating customers on other airlines.
Starting Wednesday, for example, the company has made arrangements that include rescheduling widebody aircraft to serve Hawaii.
As schedule changes are finalized, customers whose flight times or numbers change should get an emailed update. That information is also available for customers in the company’s app.
Customers can also contact Air Canada Call Centres, and the company has a rebooking policy, space permitting, without any added fees for affected customers.
“Given the magnitude of our 737 operations, which on average carry nine to twelve thousand customers per day,” the company said, “customers can expect delays in rebooking and in reaching Air Canada’s Call Centres.”
In a statement, United said it will ground its 14 737 Max aircraft, which account for about 40 flights a day.
Between spare aircraft and rebooking customers, the company said, it doesn’t expect a significant operational impact.
In a follow-up tweet, the company said customers don’t need to cancel and rebook themselves as the company will swap aircraft or automatically rebook customers.
Bloomberg reported Wednesday that in addition to United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines also operate Boeing 737 Max aircraft.
American Airlines, which has 24 Max 8 aircraft in its fleet, said it doesn’t fly the Max 8 aircraft to Hawaii.
Southwest Airlines, which said it has removed its 34 Max 8 aircraft from scheduled service, told West Hawaii Today the company would be operating a 737-800 to Hawaii.
While Canadian airline WestJet’s Kahului-Calgary route was included on the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau’s list of impacted routes, that list didn’t appear to include any Kona-bound WestJet routes. An article published Wednesday by the Toronto Star made reference to a Vancouver-Kona flight on a 737 Max 8 that had been canceled in accordance with an order by Canada’s government.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the soonest flights available indicate they’ll use Boeing 737-800 aircraft rather than the Max 8.
That company said in a statement it has a total of 13 Max aircraft in its fleet.
“They are part of our overall fleet,” the company said, “and are scheduled on various routes across our network daily.”
Neither Hawaiian Airlines nor Alaska Airlines lists Boeing 737 Max aircraft among their respective fleets.
Bloomberg reported that Canada’s transport minister said satellites tracked the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed minutes after takeoff near Addis Ababa and point to possible “similarities” with a Lion Air crash off the coast of Indonesia at the end of October that also involved a Max 8.
President Donald Trump is quoted in the report as telling reporters that he spoke with the U.S. Transportation Secretary, FAA’s acting administrator and Boeing’s chief executive before deciding to ground 737 Max 8 and Max 9 planes in the country.
“Our hearts go out to all of those who lost loved ones, to their friends, to families, in both Ethiopian and Lion Airlines crashes that involved the 737 Max aircraft,” Trump is quoted as saying in the report. “It’s a terrible, terrible thing. Boeing is an incredible company. They are working very, very hard right now, and hopefully they will very quickly come up with the answer but until they do the planes are grounded and you will be hearing from the FAA directly in a little while.”
Boeing in a statement said it “continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max,” but said it supports suspending operations of its global fleet of 737 Max aircraft “out of an abundance of caution.”