Ethiopian Airlines crash shakes belief in safety of Boeing Max 737s

There are some 350 of the 737 MAX 8 planes currently in service around the world.

Pádraig Hoare
When Lion Air Flight 610 plunged into the Java Sea off Indonesia shortly after takeoff last October, killing 189 people, analysts and passengers alike were cautiously satisfied in the aftermath with Boeing’s explanation that its state-of-the-art 737 Max aircraft is safe.
The fatal Ethiopian Airlines air crash, which killed 157, at the weekend has shaken that belief.
There was an element of victim-blaming in the aftermath of the Lion Air tragedy, with aviation insiders in Ireland pointing to Indonesia’s historically shoddy safety record as a way to alleviate queries about issues surrounding the so-called “game-changing” 737 Max.
The 737 Max is perfectly safe, they said — it is most likely poor safety and pilot error that brought Lion Air Flight 610 down.
It is a different story today. Ethiopian Airlines has an excellent, though not impeccable, safety record and is the envy of others within the industry not only in Africa but across the world.
While it would not to fair or accurate to cast aspersions on the safety of Boeing’s wonder plane just yet, it is surely prudent to ask hard questions.
Put simply, pilots have said they were not trained in new features of an anti-stall system that are different from previous 737s.
The automated system is designed to help pilots avoid raising the plane’s nose too high, which can cause the plane to stall, or lose the aerodynamic lift needed to keep flying.
The system automatically pushes the nose of the plane down. But if that nose-down command is triggered by faulty sensor readings — as suspected in the Lion Air tragedy — pilots can struggle to control the plane, which can go into a dive and perhaps crash, according to a Boeing safety bulletin and safety regulators.
You don’t get do-overs or mulligans in aviation, where innocuous human errors or technical faults can snowball into a chain reaction of catastrophic events, often fatal.
With 5,000 orders of 737 Max aircraft from airlines around the world, and many billions of dollars on the line, the stakes could not be higher for the world’s biggest planemaker, which saw a tenth wiped off its value as spooked investors jettisoned shares yesterday.
Singapore bars all Boeing 737 Max planes from ntering
In a latest development, Singapore’s civil aviation authority says it has temporarily banned all Boeing 737 Max planes from entering and leaving the country.
It noted in a statement on Wednesday that there have been two fatal accidents involving the aircraft in less than five months. The authority said the suspension starting on Wednesday will be “reviewed as relevant safety information becomes available”.
It was believed to be the first country to ban all versions of the Max planes.
The suspension will affect SilkAir, a regional carrier that’s wholly owned by Singapore Airlines. It has six Boeing 737 Max 8 planes.
The authority said that flights to Singapore by China Southern Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Shandong Airlines and Thai Lion Air will also be affected.
Singapore joins a growing number of airlines that have grounded planes.
Airlines in Ethiopia, China and Indonesia have temporarily grounded their Max 8s, in addition to Caribbean carrier Cayman Airways, Comair in South Africa and Royal Air Maroc in Morocco. Other airlines have issued safety warnings or are conducting inspections.
Many countries grounding their Boeing 737 MAX 8s
Meanwhile, a number of countries have grounded Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 medium-haul workhorse jet in response to an Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people on board, reports AFP
The Nairobi-bound plane was the same type as the Indonesian Lion Air jet that crashed in October, killing 189 passengers and crew – with some detecting similarities between the two accidents.
There are some 350 of the 737 MAX 8 planes currently in service around the world and while some countries and airlines have opted to ground the planes, others are continuing to fly the aircraft pending an investigation into the crash and possible guidance from Boeing itself.
Boeing has sent experts to assist in the Ethiopia probe and said safety was its “number one priority”.
Countries that have grounded 737 MAX 8s
Singapore: Singapore’s aviation regulator Tuesday completely banned the use of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in the country’s airspace.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said it was “temporarily suspending operation of all variants of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft into and out of Singapore” in light of the two recent accidents.
China: Beijing Monday ordered domestic airlines to suspend operation of the Boeing 737 MAX 8, citing the two crashes.
Noting “similarities” between the two incidents, China’s Civil Aviation Administration said operation of the model would only resume after “confirming the relevant measures to effectively ensure flight safety”.
China is a hugely important market for the US aircraft company, accounting for about one-fifth of worldwide deliveries of Boeing 737 MAX models.
Indonesia: Indonesia said it was grounding its 11 jets of the 737 MAX 8 type.
Inspections of the aircraft would start Tuesday and the planes would remain grounded until they were cleared by safety regulators, Director General of Air Transport Polana Pramesti told reporters.
South Korea: South Korea’s transport ministry said that the two Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes operated by the country’s budget airline Eastar Jet would be grounded pending an inspection.
Mongolia: The Mongolian Civil Aviation Authority said on Facebook it had ordered the state carrier MIAT Mongolian Airlines to ground the sole Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in its fleet.
Airlines that have grounded jets
Ethiopian Airlines: Ethiopian Airlines said Monday it had grounded its Boeing 737 MAX 8 fleet “until further notice”.
“Although we don’t yet know the cause of the accident, we have to decide to ground the particular fleet as an extra safety precaution,” said the state-owned carrier, Africa’s largest.
Comair: South African airline Comair said it had “decided to remove its 737 MAX from its flight schedule”.
Cayman Airways: Cayman Airways said it would suspend flights for its two 737 MAX 8 planes “until more information is received”, CEO Fabian Whorms said.
Gol Airlines: Brazil’s Gol Airlines said it was temporarily suspending its commercial operations with the plane.
Aeromexico: Aeromexico, which has six 737 MAX 8s in its fleet, also announced that it was grounding the aircraft.
Aerolineas Argentinas: Pilots from Argentina’s Aerolineas Argentinas have refused to fly the jet.
Ireland has no plans to ground 737 Max
The type of plane involved in the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes in the past five months has carried thousands of passengers to and from Ireland — and aviation authorities have no plans to ground 737 Max aircraft.
China, Ethiopia, and Indonesia grounded Boeing’s 737 Max planes following the crash that killed 157 passengers and crew shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa on Sunday, and five months after a Lion Air flight plunged into the sea off Indonesia minutes after taking off in October, killing 189.
Norwegian Air International is among the airlines that use Boeing’s 737 Max, flying thousands of passengers from Irish airports to the US east coast over the past 18 months, including Cork’s first ever transatlantic flights to Providence, Rhode Island.
The airline said it has no plans to ground the planes, which are coming under scrutiny from experts across the world.
Meanwhile, Ryanair is due to take delivery of its first 737 Max next month, a plane it has described as a “game-changer for its modern capabilities including fewer emissions and more fuel efficiency.
Ryanair has options of up to 210 aircraft in the coming years, while Boeing has taken over 5,000 orders from airlines across the world.

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