Boeing insists its new 737 MAX 8 aircraft is safe despite it being involved in a second fatal crash less than two years after entering service.
Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302 to Nairobi came down shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa on Sunday (March 10). All 157 people on board, 149 passengers and eight crew, were killed.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is assisting the airline and the Ethiopian civil aviation and transport authorities with its investigation, in collaboration with Boeing.
Ethiopian Airlines group chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam said he wished to extend his “profound sympathies and condolences” to the families of those who lost loved ones in the crash.
The FAA on Tuesday (March 12) issued a “continued airworthiness notification” confirming it believes the 737 Max 8 to be airworthy. However, it has tasked Boeing with submitting “design changes” by next month. Boeing will issue a software update “in the coming weeks”.
“The 737 MAX is a safe airplane,” said Boeing, adding it had been developing enhanced flight control software after Lion Air flight JT 610 plunged into the Java Sea shortly after taking off from Indonesian capital Jakarta last October.
The crash was the first major catastrophe involving a 737 MAX 8 aircraft. Initial investigations suggest a new anti-stall system forced the aircraft’s nose down with the pilots unable to override it. There has been no suggestion at this stage a similar fate befell Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302.
As TTG went to print, Australia became the latest nation to suspend 737 MAX 8 services, following the example set by China, Indonesia and Singapore. A number of airlines have also opted to take the aircraft out of service for safety checks, including Ethiopian itself, Cayman Airlines, Brazil’s GOL, Argentina’s Aerolineas and Aeromexico.
The MAX 8 is the latest version of Boeing’s 737, entering service in May 2017 and capable of operating short to mid-haul routes of up to around 3,500 miles. Boeing has, to date, delivered more than 350 MAX 8s following more than 5,000 orders. The aircraft is an attractive prospect for airlines, offering significant improvements in fuel efficiency.
In Europe, Tui currently operates 15, Norwegian 18 (16 owned and two leased) and Icelandair three. Ryanair has 135 of Boeing’s forthcoming 737 MAX 200 variant on order.
The CAA confirmed there are currently five MAX 8 aircraft registered in the UK, with another due to come into service shortly, adding it was liaising with the European Aviation Safety Agency pending the facts of the latest crash being established.
Norwegian’s director of flight operations Tomas Hesthammer, meanwhile, said it would continue to operate its 737 MAX 8 aircraft as normal. “We are in close dialogue with Boeing and follow their and the aviation authorities’ instructions and recommendations,” he said.
A Tui spokesperson said: “Tui Airways remains in close contact with the manufacturer and regulatory authorities. We have no indication we cannot safely operate our 737 MAX aircraft.”
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said the airline wasn’t preparing to take immediate action, adding it would await the outcome of the Ethiopian Airlines investigation. Ryanair has 135 of Boeing’s 737 MAX 200 variant on order, with an option on a further 75.