Flight ban leaves Norwegian's Boeing 737 Max 8 stranded at Malaga Airport

The grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 at Malaga Airport on Wednesday.
The grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 at Malaga Airport on Wednesday. / SALVADOR SALAS
  • The airport's fourth-largest operator has been particularly affected, with 18 planes of this model in its fleet

The EU-wide flight ban on the Max 8 model of the Boeing 737 has seen one aircraft, belonging to Norwegian, grounded indefinitely at Malaga Airport. The plane, which arrived on Tuesday from Oslo, was expected to take to the skies an hour later but has now been grounded following two accidents in the space of five months involving this model. There were no survivors in either case.

The most recent was on Sunday when an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi, killing all 157 people on board.

Two Spaniards were among the victims: Pilar Martínez Docampo, 32, from Cangas do Morrazo (Galicia); and Jordi Dalmau Sayol, 46, from Granollers (Catalonia). It has been widely speculated that the accident was caused as a result of a fault in the new automated system designed to keep the plane from stalling but in these two cases caused the planes to nosedive.

As a result of Sunday's accident, numerous countries have banned the plane from their airspace. On Wednesday, the US, Hong Kong, Vietnam and New Zealand joined the list of countries that had banned 737 Max models, following China, the European Union and Australia.

This has had major consequences for Norwegian, the fourth largest operator at Malaga Airport. The airline has 18 planes of this type, none more than two years old, of a total 134 planes - all Boeing 737s.

The head of communications at Norwegian, Alfons Claver, admitted that he didn't know when the plane would be back in the air but industry sources suggest that the ban would be lifted, at the earliest, in four to eight weeks.

Claver said that the plane, with capacity for 189 passengers, would remain in Malaga until the end of the ban, highlighting that none of these banned aircraft are based in the city. "It was by chance that it was here," he said, explaining that the of the 177 passengers directly affected, 143 were put on alternative flights, while the remainder, on discovering the problem, made alternative plans themselves.

"At the moment we are trying to minimise the disruption on a day-to-day basis," said Claver, also admitting that having 18 planes inoperative could have a knock-on effect at various airports.

The news comes at a time that the airline has committed to expanding its presence on the Costa del Sol with 1.45 million seats available between the end of March and October, up 11.6 per cent on the same period last year.