SYDNEY - Australia said on Friday it would lift a near two-year ban on flights involving Boeing Co 737 MAX planes, becoming among the first in the Asia-Pacific region to do so. "We ... are confident that the aircraft are safe," Graeme Crawford, acting chief of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, said in a statement. The regulator has accepted comprehensive return-to-service requirements set by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the 737 MAX, he added. No Australian airlines operate the 737 MAX, but Virgin Australia has 25 of the planes on order. Singapore Airlines Ltd and Fiji Airways operated them on flights to Australia. The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded in March 2019 after two deadly crashes. Crawford said it was unclear when those airlines would resume flights to Australia given the disruption by COVID-19 to international air travel. Singapore Airlines and Fiji Airways will also need approval to resume flying the 737 MAX from their national aviation regulators and from other authorities where they need to use airspace. Singapore's aviation regulator did not respond immediately to a request for comment. Singapore Airlines said it would continue to work with and be guided by regulators on 737 MAX operations. A Fiji Airways spokesman said it was still working with other regulators in the region, including those in Fiji and New Zealand, before returning the 737 MAX to service. New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it had worked closely with counterparts in Australia and Singapore on the return of the 737 MAX in New Zealand. "The CAA will not issue a blanket approval for the Boeing 737 MAX to fly into New Zealand but will work with any future operators on a case-by-case basis to clear flight operations into New Zealand," the CAA said, noting Fiji Airways was still restricting international flights due to COVID-19. Regulators in the United States, Europe, Britain, Canada, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates are among those that have already approved the 737 MAX's return to flight following technical modifications and additional pilot training. Japan lifted its restrictions at the end of January following decisions by counterparts in the United States, Europe, Canada and Brazil, an official at Japan's Civil Aviation Bureau said on Friday. Japan has no local operators of the 737 MAX and the decision was not announced publicly at the time. China was the first country to ban the 737 MAX from its airspace in 2019 and it has not indicated when it will lift the ban. Boeing said on Friday it was working with regulators and customers to return the 737 MAX to service safely worldwide. REUTERS
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