Boeing has grounded its fleet of 737 MAX aircraft after new evidence came to light suggesting the flight path of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302 was “very close” to that of the Lion Air flight LT 610, which crashed into the Java Sea last October.
Manufacturer Boeing says it continues to have “full confidence” in the safety of the 737 MAX, stressing the decision was made out of an “abundance of caution” following consultation with the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), National Transportation Safety Board, and aviation authorities around the world.
“Boeing has determined, out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety, to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft,” said Boeing in a statement.
“Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be. There is no greater priority for our company and our industry. We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”
Last October, Lion Air flight JT 610 crashed into the Java Sea shortly after taking off from Jakarta. All 189 people onboard were killed. Then on Sunday (March 10), Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302 crashed en route to Nairobi around 30 miles from Addis Ababa. All 157 people onboard, including nine British nationals and one Irish national, were killed.
“On behalf of the entire Boeing team, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who have lost lives in these two tragic accidents,” said Boeing president, chief executive and chairman Dennis Muilenburg.
The move by Boeing follows the effective grounding of the 737 MAX across much of the world. Aviation authorities in China, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia were among the first to order the suspension of 737 MAX operations, along with a number of airlines.
The CAA enforced a ban on 737 MAX operations in UK airspace on Tuesday afternoon (March 12), which was quickly mirrored by many of its counterparts across Europe – including France and Germany – before the European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) made its own ruling for the whole of Europe.
The US and Canada maintained 737 MAX operations before Canada blinked first on Wednesday evening. US carriers were then forced to follow suit by the joint Boeing-FAA ruling.
Of the 371 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft that were in operation worldwide before the manufacturer’s move to ground them, more than 100 were operating in North America.
Ethiopian Airlines confirmed on Thursday the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder from flight ET 302 had been flown to Paris for further investigation.
The FAA said fresh evidence and “newly refined satellite data” had informed its and Boeing’s decision to temporarily ground the 737 MAX, not pressure from the public, other aviation administrations or US president Donald Trump, who tweeted the aircraft should be grounded.
Touching on this new evidence, Dan Elwell, the FAA’s acting administrator, said on Wednesday: "It became clear to all parties the track of the Ethiopian Airlines flight was very close and behaved very similarly to the Lion Air flight."
He added the evidence found on the ground in Ethiopia “made it even more likely the flight path was very close” to that of Lion Air flight LT 610.