New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority has suspended the operation of Boeing 737 Max aircraft to or from New Zealand.

Currently this affects only one operator, Fiji Airways, which uses the plane between Nadi and this country. The airliine's other aircraft to New Zealand aren't affected and there are no other carriers that fly this plane type to New Zealand.

The director of Civil Aviation, Graeme Harris, said that because of the very low utilisation of this type of aircraft on flights into and out of New Zealand, the authority has had time to thoroughly review concerns about the B737 Max series aircraft following the tragic accidents involving the type in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

The decision to suspend operations by the aircraft follows recent discussions with other aviation authorities, including the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which have responsibility for oversight of the design of the aircraft.


The CAA's assessment has taken into consideration the level of uncertainty regarding the cause of the recent Ethiopian Airlines accident plus its review of the aircraft design.

"This is a temporary suspension while we continue to monitor the situation closely and analyse information as it comes to hand to determine the safety risks of continued operation of the Boeing 737 Max to and from New Zealand," Harris said.

The authority said it regretted any inconvenience to passengers on Fiji Airways flights in and out of New Zealand but it believed it was important to take the action until more information was available on the cause of the two B737 Max accidents.

The CAA is satisfied with the steps Fiji Airways has taken over Boeing 737MAX 8 planes. Image / Supplied
The CAA is satisfied with the steps Fiji Airways has taken over Boeing 737MAX 8 planes. Image / Supplied

Fiji Airways uses its two Max planes to this country and has also been stopped from using them on flights to Australia.

This afternoon it said it would use its older model Boeing 737 NG aircraft as well its Airbus A330 fleet to replace flights which were to be operated by the Max 8s.

Some flight times may be impacted as a result, and all affected customers will be notified of any change in their flight schedules.

It is unknown how many passengers have been affected.

Auckland-based Travel Today reports insurance sources say that there is not normally cover if government regulations cause flight cancellations; and that the only time there could be cover was if the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing in this case, withdrew the aircraft type.


The association representing airline pilots says it supported the CAA move.

New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association president Tim Robinson said while his group had not called for a suspension, it supported a ''conservative'' approach by this country's Civil Aviation Authority to suspend flights by the plane here.

Robinson said he understood the conservative approach.

"That's a better approach than letting the aircraft fly when there's uncertainty. We don't recommend it but we'd understand and support it."

Robinson said a grounding by the FAA would be a bigger call because of higher numbers of the new generation 737s in North America and that body had a closer relationship with Boeing than other regulators around the world.

"They've probably got a better insight into the risk mitigation that Boeing is taking with this automated control system."

The Ethiopian Airways crash was the second of a Max plane within five months and had similarities to the Lion Air accident in October.

Following that the FAA issued an airworthiness directive to all airlines operating about 350 of the planes on new training for pilots to deal with suspected systems problem.

Airlines were required to put their pilots through specific exercises to deal with the circumstances where the aircraft angle of attack gauge fails and this automated system drives the aircraft into a nose dive, Robinson said.

"There were specific drills. Clearly airlines would have to comply with that and pilots would have to demonstrate their competency."

Although the possibly linked problems happened at a critical stage of flight - take-off - Robinson said trained pilots should be able to implement the new measures.

"In a take-off situation there is a lot happening but as a pilot I would know what to do."