What Happened To British Airways/Comair’s Only Boeing 737 MAX?


Before we talk about what happened to Comair’s only Boeing 737 MAX, let’s look at how a South African airline became affiliated with British Airways. The idea to start an airline in South Africa came about when two World War Two pilots brainstormed it while working in Egypt. Following the war, the pair stated charter operations with a Fairchild F-24 Argus and Douglas DC-3.

Comair planes have the same livery as British Airways. Photo: Boeing

Led by Donald (Dave) Novick by 1961, Comair had 50 employees and was operating two Douglas DC-3 aircraft. In 1978 Novick initiated a management buyout of the company’s aviation assets and began pioneering a solid relationship with British Airways. However, starting out as a British Airways franchisee, the UK national flag carrier later took a shareholding in the airline.


Comair ordered Boeing 737-800s and the 737 MAX

In a move designed to update its fleet, Comair announced an order for eight Boeing 737-800s in 2013 and ordered eight Boeing 737 MAX aircraft a year later. The first and only Boeing 737 MAX to arrive at Comair’s Johannesburg O. R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) base was delivered on February 26, 2019. Before being grounded, the aircraft registration number ZS-ZCA briefly entered service on Comair’s Johannesburg to Cape Town International Airport (CPT) route.

ZS-ZCA gets sent to Arizona for storage

Following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and the previous crash of Lion Air Flight 610, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) grounded the Boeing 737 MAX over safety concerns in March 2019.

ZS-ZCA last flew commercially on March 11, 2019, and has performed only three test flights since the grounding was lifted on November 18, 2020. The three test flight were to ferry the plane for storage at Marana Regional Airport (AVQ). Located just outside of Tucson, Arizona the airport serves as a large storage facility for aircraft. On the trip to

Marana from South Africa the aircraft made refueling stops in the following airports:

  • Kotoka International Airport (AAC) in Accra, Ghana
  • Santa Maria Airport (SMA) in the Azores
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)

Comair entered a Business Rescue Plan

Due to the impact brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Comair entered into a voluntary business rescue plan on May 5, 2020, but continues to fly under the British Airways brand to the following destinations:

  • Cape Town International Airport (CPT)
  • King Shaka International Airport (DUR) in Durban
  • Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport (PLZ) in Port Elizabeth
  • King Phalo Airport (ELS) in East London
  • OR Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg

International

  • Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport (LVI) in Livingston, Zambia
  • Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport (HRE) in Zimbabwe
  • Victoria Falls Airport (VFA) in Zimbabwe
  • Hosea Kutako International Airport (WDH) in Windhoek, Namibia
  • Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (MRU) in Port Louis, Mauritius

Comair is negotiating with Boeing to cancel its 737 MAX order. Photo: Boeing

Of the remaining Boeing 737 MAX aircraft that Comair ordered, the airline is in talks with Boeing to cancel its remaining commitment for this type of plane. Currently, according to the aviation data and statistics website ch-aviation, the Comair all-Boeing fleet comprises the following 22 planes:

  • 5 x Boeing 737-400s
  • 17 x Boeing 737-800s

Comair is also the owner of South African low-cost carrier Kulula.com, a no-frills airline that operates on domestic routes from O. R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) and Lanseria International Airport (HLA), both in Johannesburg.


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