Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crash: China and Indonesia ground planes

The European Union has suspended “all flight operations” of Boeing 737 Max 8 planes, the New York Times reports. The EU’s decision follows that of several other countries, including China, Indonesia, and Ethiopia, to temporarily ground all Boeing 737 Max jets in response to the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight headed from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday that led to the deaths of all 157 people on board. This is the second plane crash in less than a year involving this type of plane — a Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by the Indonesian airline Lion Air crashed into the sea last October, killing 189 passengers and crew members — raising questions about the safety of the planes, which are used by airlines around the world.

China’s Civil Aviation Administration announced the temporary ban on Monday, ordering all domestic airlines to stop operating any 737 Max planes in their fleets by 6 pm local time. Indonesia followed suit a few hours later. The fact that China and Indonesia, two of Boeing’s biggest customers, acted so quickly is likely to have a big effect on the manufacturer. “The China groundings definitely increase the pressure on Boeing,” Richard Aboulafia, a vice president of the US aviation intelligence company Teal Group, told the Wall Street Journal. If Boeing doesn’t prove the 737 Max jets are safe, he said, “the damage could get more serious, both in terms of sales and reputation.”

On Tuesday, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia closed their airspace to 737 Max planes in response to the crash, Bloomberg reported. Oman suspended Max flights going to and from its airports. The South Korean airline Eastar Jet suspended flights with its two 737 Max 8 jets, as did the low-cost Brazilian airline Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA and Grupo Aeromexico. More than 25 additional airlines around the world have also grounded their Boeing 737 Max 8 jets.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — the three biggest economies in the European Union — also banned Boeing 737 Max 8 planes from their airspace on Tuesday. The EU suspended all Boeing 737 Max 8 flights shortly afterwards.

US regulators, meanwhile, haven’t been so quick to act, and, as Bloomberg points out, most other countries wait to follow the US and EU’s lead on aviation matters. Three US-based airlines — American, Southwest, and United — have Boeing 737 Max jets in their fleets. (American Airlines has 24 Max 8 jets, Southwest has 34, and United has 14 Max 9s, according to NPR.) The airlines plan to keep their Max jets in the air for now, even amid customer concerns about their safety.

On Twitter, Southwest has been attempting to reassure passengers about the safety of the planes, though the airline is also helping customers determine whether their upcoming flights are on Boeing 737 Max jets, presumably so they can change their travel plans. “We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of our fleet of more than 750 Boeing aircraft,” spokesperson Chris Mainz told USA Today.

American Airlines is similarly standing by the jets’ safety, at least for now.

“American Airlines extends our condolences to the families and friends of those on board Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. At this time there are no facts on the cause of the accident other than news reports,” a customer spokesperson told Vox in an emailed statement. “Our Flight, Flight Service, Tech Ops and Safety teams, along with the Allied Pilots Association (APA) and Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), will closely monitor the investigation in Ethiopia, which is our standard protocol for any aircraft accident. American continues to collaborate with the FAA and other regulatory authorities, as the safety of our team members and customers is our number one priority. We have full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members, who are the best and most experienced in the industry.”

The airline is correct in pointing out that we still don’t know what caused the Ethiopian Airlines crash. On Monday, the airline confirmed that the plane’s digital flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder had both been recovered from the crash site. Despite being damaged, the equipment may help investigators determine what happened in the moments before the plane crashed. There are some eyewitness reports, according to the Guardian, but they’re largely contradictory. One man told the BBC that the plane fell sharply and had no apparent damage before hitting the ground; another told Reuters he saw “smoke and sparks coming from the back of the plane” as it fell toward the ground.

Although we still don’t know what led to this crash — or to the Lion Air crash last October — one thing is certain: Passengers are seemingly afraid of these planes, and Boeing’s stock is dropping steadily as a result. According to Bloomberg, the company’s stock had sunk 11 percent as of 9:37 am Monday, the biggest intraday decline since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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