Ethiopian Airlines crash prompts safety fears over Boeing 737 Max

Image credit: reuters

Concern about the safety of Boeing’s 737 Max planes is growing after an Ethiopian Airlines (EA) crash at the weekend killed 157 passengers.

While many airlines continue to use the new line of aircraft, EA itself has said it will not use the planes until further notice, and Chinese and Indonesian authorities have also decided to ground then.

“Although we don’t yet know the cause of the accident, we had to decide to ground the particular fleet as extra safety precaution,” EA said in a statement.

Indonesia suffered its own 737 Max disaster in October 2018, when one of the aircraft crashed not long after taking off from Jakarta airport. The plane involved was just two months old; the close proximity of that accident and the EA crash has led to questions over the safety of the model.

Boeing has already delivered over 350,737 Maxs worldwide, and has totalled over 5,000 in orders from global airlines. Shares in the company slid 10 per cent today putting the stock on course for its biggest daily fall in nearly two decades, halting a surge that has seen Boeing’s market value triple in just over three years to a record high of $446 (£341) per share.

The investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines crash is in its early stages and there was no need to issue new guidance to operators of its 737 Max 8 aircraft based on the information it has so far.

In Britain, holiday operator Tui Airways has ordered 32 Max aircraft as part of a major fleet overhaul and took delivery of its first Max 8 in December. However, it has not decided to stop flying the aircraft: “We have no indication that we can’t operate our 737 Max in a safe way like we do with all other planes in our network,” it said in a statement.

One of the few companies to cease operations of 737 Max is Cayman Airways. Its president, Fabian Whorms, said both of the airline’s new Max 8s will not fly from today.

He said in a statement: “While the cause of this sad loss is undetermined at this time, we stand by our commitment to putting the safety of our passengers and crew first by maintaining complete and undoubtable safe operations, and as such, we have taken the decision to suspend operations of both our new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, effective from Monday March 11 2019, until more information is received.”

The Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed six minutes after taking off from the capital Addis Ababa. Both the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were recovered from the wreckage.

While the cause is not yet known, the crash shared similarities with last year’s Indonesian crash. The Max aircraft use LEAP-1B engines made by CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and Safran SA.

They are located higher on the wing than previous models of the 737 which affects aerodynamics, leading to Boeing introducing new software designed to prevent stalling.

The US Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for issuing safety certificates for the aircraft, said it was “closely monitoring developments”. This process is validated for European Union countries by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The UK Civil Aviation Authority said it is “liaising very closely” with EASA.

Boeing delivered 806 aircraft last year, missing its target by four jets, but still retaining the title of the world’s biggest planemaker for the seventh straight year. European rival Airbus delivered 800 planes in 2018.

In a statement Boeing said it was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team,” it added.

“A Boeing technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and US National Transportation Safety Board.”

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