Virgin Australia has reduced its order for 38 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft to 23 and deferred delivery of the remainder, saying safety is its No.1 priority.
The carrier says it has also postponed delivery of its first Max 8 – the type of aircraft involved in last month’s Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people – from November this year to February 2025.
Virgin Australia has instead upped its order for 10 of Boeing’s 737 Max 10s to 25. The first of those planes will arrive in June 2021, rather than January 2022 as previously planned.
“As we have previously stated, we will not introduce any new aircraft to the fleet unless we are completely satisfied with its safety,” Virgin Australia group chief executive Paul Scurrah said.
“We are confident in Boeing’s commitment to returning the 737 Max to service safely and as a long-term partner of Boeing, we will be working with them through this process.”
Mr Scurrah said the new timetable would bring “a number of positive commercial benefits” for the company, including a deferral of capital expenditure.
Virgin Australia $VAH has changed its order of the @BoeingAirplanes 737 MAX 8 aircraft after several crashes in recent times. VAH will now delay & reduce its order of MAX 8 planes for more MAX 10 aircraft #ausbiz #aviation pic.twitter.com/C8ASerLzDh
— CommSec (@CommSec) April 29, 2019
Virgin’s announcement came as Boeing Co chief executive and chairman Dennis Muilenburg promised to win back public trust after the two deadly Max 8 crashes in March 2019 and October 2018.
The crashes, which killed nearly 350 people, led to the worldwide grounding of the 737s.
Battling the biggest crisis of his nearly four years as CEO, Mr Muilenburg survived a shareholder motion at Boeing’s annual meeting to split his chairman and CEO roles, emerging with his job intact.
He later said he would continue to lead the company through a crisis that has triggered the grounding of Boeing’s fastest-selling plane, lawsuits, investigations and lingering concerns over the 737 Max’s safety.
“I am very focused on safety going forward,” he said, when asked if he had considered resigning.
“I am strongly vested in that. My clear intent is to continue to lead on the front of safety, quality and integrity.
“We know we do have work to do to earn and re-earn that trust and we will.”
The family of one American victim, 24-year-old Samya Stumo, staged a silent protest outside the meeting site in Chicago, while the families of other victims among the 157 killed in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max on March 10 held a tearful media conference at a Chicago law firm.
That plane plunged to the ground shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa, five months after a similar Lion Air nosedive in Indonesia that killed 189.
The families spoke after filing a wrongful death lawsuit against Boeing and Rosemount Aerospace, which designed the sensors used in the 737 Max, one of dozens of lawsuits Boeing is facing over both crashes.
Shares in the company, worth $US214 billion, have lost nearly 10 per cent of their value since the March 10 crash.
We’re making steady progress on the path to certification for our 737 MAX software update thanks to the work of our Boeing pilots, engineers and technical experts. pic.twitter.com/DIHrhG2OOi
— Dennis A. Muilenburg (@BoeingCEO) April 18, 2019
Boeing is under pressure to deliver a software fix to prevent erroneous data from triggering the MCAS system and a new pilot training package that will convince global regulators, and the flying public, that the aircraft is safe.
Boeing has acknowledged the accidental firing of the software based on bad sensor data was a common link in the chain of events leading to the two accidents.
The US Federal Aviation Administration could clear Boeing’s 737 Max jet to fly in late May or the first part of June, two people familiar with the matter said on Friday. However, Boeing has yet to submit the updated software and training for review.
Some pilots have also warned that draft training proposals do not go far enough to address their concerns.
Meanwhile, with 737 Max deliveries on hold, Boeing last week abandoned its 2019 financial outlook, halted share buybacks and said lowered production due to the grounding had already cost it at least $US1 billion ($1.4 billion).
Shareholders have filed a lawsuit accusing the company of defrauding them by concealing safety deficiencies in the plane. The model is also the target of investigations by US transportation authorities and the Department of Justice.