On April 8th, flydubai will resume revenue flights with 5 of its 14 Boeing 737 MAXs. Sialkot (Pakistan) will be the first destination. Today, April 6th, we took part in a virtual roundtable with flydubai officials and learned more details about MAX’s return to service, but also about the future of flydubai’s Boeing 737-800 NGs.
As announced a few days ago, flydubai will resume MAX passenger flights with 4 MAX 8s and one MAX 9. Initially to Sialkot, then to Karachi, from April 14th. The remaining 9 MAXs – flydubai currently has 14 MAXs: 11 MAX 8s and 3 MAX 9s – will resume revenue service “by the first week of June” as “each stored aircraft requires around 10 days to be put back in to service”. flydubai’s officials told us that 233 pilots have already completed the MAX return to service training, while the remaining 522 pilots will do that by the end of 2021.
Why Pakistan and not another country? “We took into account several factors: the destination should be relatively close to our home base in case we need technical support, but we also took into consideration overflight permits for the MAX, maintenance facilities at that destination, etc. As more MAXs will return to active service, we’ll announce new destinations”, said one of flydubai’s representatives. Asked by a journalist, FZ’s officials said that the MAX 8s and 9s are allocated on routes depending on the demand. flydubai’s MAX 8s offer 10 Business Class (which turn into fully-flat beds) + 156 Economy seats, while the MAX 9s have 16 Business Class + 156 Economy seats.
“We have every confidence in this aircraft. I can’t wait to fly the MAX again as soon as I can and I’m sure that my colleagues will do the same”, said one of flydubai’s officials which took part in today’s virtual roundtable. “Following our announcement about MAX’s return to service, the response on social media has been positive, so I think that many of our passengers are waiting to fly again with the MAX.” Speaking of this, passengers will be notified in advance of travel if their itinerary will include a flight that is scheduled to be operated by a MAX. If they wish the modify the flight dates or cancel that flight, the rules of the booking fare will be applicable.
Future 737 MAX deliveries
We wanted to find out how many MAXs will flydubai receive in 2021 and 2022, but the airline said that “Our priority is to get our 14 MAXs back into service as soon as possible, then we can speak about deliveries for this year and next year.” The MAX grounding – which began in March 2019 and lasted for almost 2 years – had a “significant impact on our operations and financial performance”, with flydubai’s fleet size being roughly “where it was back in 2014.”
Currently, flydubai has one 737 MAX simulator in Dubai – the only MAX simulator in the Middle East – and also 4 Boeing 737-800 NG simulators. Ahead of MAX’s return to service, flydubai has allocated 25 simulator instructors to train the pilots and put them through a wide range of scenarios, covering various flight situations, explaining the upgrades Boeing has done, as well as the updated MAX procedures. “Every one of our pilots will receive additional training before they fly the MAX. This training programme exceeds the regulatory requirement. It will be conducted in the classroom and in flydubai’s MAX aircraft full motion simulator.”
The 737-800NGs will be around for 8-10 more years
Speaking of 737NGs, we’ve learned that flydubai will keep them active for 8-10 more years, with no immediate retirement plans. “All of our 36 Boeing 737-800NGs are currently flying across the network, we haven’t put them into active storage.” Given the NGs won’t be retired anytime soon, we’ve asked flydubai if they intend to retrofit some of the 737-800s with the new Business Class which debuted on the MAX. “We have no plans to do that and the new Biz Class will be offered exclusively on the 737 MAX.”
We also found out some interesting details about how the MAXs were maintained and about the operational readiness flights performed ahead of MAX’s return to service. “For each operational readiness flight, which lasts for 2-3 hours, the MAX should fly above 20,000 feet, but no higher than 41,000 feet.” flydubai has chosen to keep its MAXs into active, not deep storage, following the worldwide grounding. “Active storage is more expensive than deep storage, but we can get the airplanes back into service faster once the aviation regulator (in our case, GCAA) gave the green light.”
737 MAX maintenance details
Throughout the period while they were grounded, each flydubai 737 MAX has been under continuous maintenance as part of an aircraft storage programme. “The Engineering and Maintenance team are spending 18 hours per aircraft each week maintaining the aircraft to the highest international standards, meeting all regulatory requirements.” A 7-day preservation cycle of inspections and checks has been done for each flydubai 737 MAX: external and internal visual inspections, checking the avionics, flight controls, engine inspections and testing, as well as inspections in the cabin and on-board systems. Fuel tanks were checked daily for water and weekly for contamination, while a 30-day exterior washing program was undertaken to prevent the accumulation of dust.
Following an exhaustive 20-month review by aviation stakeholders, there have been a series of enhancements to the aircraft and its systems. These include enhanced protections to the automated flight control system, as well as additional software updates and a modification to wiring.
Enhanced protections to MCAS
The MAX’s automated flight control system, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), has received multiple enhanced protections.
The review and testing process identified additional items, not directly related to MCAS, that would need to be addressed before the MAX returns to service. These include a wire separation modification, inspections for Foreign Object Debris and the installation of two additional software updates.
Prior to resuming passenger service, flydubai will meet the stringent requirements set out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), which will include installing software enhancements, completing a wire separation modification, conducting pilot training and performing thorough aircraft reactivation activities.