An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, U.S. March 21, 2019

Ethiopian Airlines backs Boeing despite fatal crash

Image credit: REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

The boss of Ethiopian Airlines (EA) says he still “believes in Boeing” in spite of a crash involving the US manufacturer’s 737 Max plane which killed 157 people.

Boeing says it plans to provide airlines that have bought the 737 Max with free software upgrades, as Ethiopian Airlines reports it expects a preliminary crash report this week or next.

The US Transportation Department said on Monday (25 March) that it was forming an outside panel to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft certification programme amid growing concerns after two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes since October 2018.

It is still unknown what caused the separate Lion Air and Ethiopian Airline crashes; however, Ethiopians Airlines chief executive officer, Tewolde Gebremariam, said he still trusts Boeing.

“Despite the tragedy, Boeing and Ethiopian Airlines will continue to be linked well into the future,” Gebremariam said. “Ethiopian Airlines believes in Boeing. They have been a partner of ours for many years.”

The Max software is the main focus of the two investigations and has prompted worldwide grounding of the aircraft. Any fixes to the software must still get approval from governments all over the world.

Meanwhile, Boeing has begun briefing airlines on software and training updates for the Max, with more than 200 global airline pilots, technical experts and regulators due in Renton, Washington, this week, where the plane is built.

The sessions follow a briefing with carriers including three US airlines on Saturday, part of Boeing’s effort “to communicate with all current, and many future, Max customers and operators,” a Boeing spokeswoman said.

However, Gebremariam told Reuters the African airline may or may not attend the briefing. Furthermore, Lion Air managing director Daniel Putut said his airline would send a pilot and engineer to the briefing on Wednesday (27 March).

The crash of an Indonesian Lion Air flight last October killed 189 people, and first brought the safety of the 737 Max into question.

To prevent an accident like this happening again, Boeing’s planned software fix for the grounded 737 Max will prevent repeated operation of an anti-stall system at the centre of safety concerns, and deactivate it altogether if two sensors disagree widely, two people familiar with pilot briefings said.

Furthermore, the system has caused debate in the aviation world over the proper balance between human and machine in piloting the latest version of the 50-year-old 737.

No direct link has been proven between the crashes, but attention has focused on whether pilots had the correct information about the ‘angle of attack’ at which the wing slices through the air.

The 737 Max is Boeing’s best-selling plane, with orders worth more than US$500bn at list prices.

Boeing’s shares closed 2.3 per cent higher at $370.46 on hopes that a fix is nearing completion. However, the company has lost about 12 per cent in shares and $29bn in market value since the 10 March crash in Ethiopia that killed 157 people.

In another blow to Boeing, France announced on 25 March that Airbus had agreed to sell 300 aircraft to China Aviation Supplies Holding Company, including 290 A320 planes and 10 A350, in a deal worth about €30bn.

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