Following a second fatal accident of its new, short-haul flagship jet the ‘737 MAX’ — Boeing is facing its largest crisis since the turbulent entry-into-service of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Both the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder have been recovered from the wreckage of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302, which crashed on Sunday — after being airborne for around six minutes.
The devastating crash at Africa’s most respected airline is the second major accident involving the Boeing 737 MAX in less than five months.
In October 2018, a Lion Air 737 MAX crashed shortly after departure. As with the Lion Air crash, initial flight data shows Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX climbed erratically in the short time it was airborne. Chief executive of Ethiopian Airlines, Tewolde Gebremariam confirmed the flight crew had spoken with air traffic control in the moments prior to the crash, requesting an immediate return to Addis Ababa after “encountering difficulties” during the climb.
With the investigation into the latest 737 MAX crash underway (an investigation running in parallel to the Lion Air 737 MAX crash investigation), the world’s attention has turned to Boeing. It’s unprecedented that the manufacturer has suffered two hull losses of a brand new flagship jet, and while teething problems are common in the entry-into-service of new airline jets, the industry has never witnessed a sequence of aircraft disasters quite like this before.
Boeing’s current advice to 737 MAX airline operators (many of which are inundated with questions from concerned passengers) is that the planemaker and the FAA believe there is “no basis” to issue new guidance to airlines – such as ordering a grounding.
Extraordinarily for Boeing, many of the world’s airlines appear to disagree with its current stance.
Usually, the synergy between an airline and an aircraft manufacturer is strong, and the two would take a partnered approach in key decisions. However, amidst the lack of any blanket suspension of all 737 MAX flights, both country regulators and airlines have made their own decisions to either ground new Boeing 737 MAX jets while they wait for further information related to why Ethiopian Airlines ET302 crashed just minutes after departure, or ban the aircraft type from country airspace all-together.
In aviation, the manufacturer–airline relationship is crucial to the safety & success of both. But now, in this immediate aftermath of a deadly plane crash, the manufacturer–airline synergy is shrouded in division, dissatisfaction & disagreement between both parties.
On Tuesday, in light of Boeing’s “this aircraft is safe” statement, the European Union suspended all flights in Europe by Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 and 737 MAX 9 aircraft, and banned the jet from operating in European airspace.
China, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, Oman, Kuwait, Turkey, Malaysia, Hong Kong and other nations have also introduced similar bans Boeing’s new, short-haul flagship jet — a significant blow for the manufacturer.
Whilst the black box from crashed Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 makes its way to Europe for data extraction and analysis, civil aviation authorities around the globe are demanding more ‘evidence’ be shown from Boeing in order to prove the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is as safe as the manufacturer insist.
The US has so far refused to take similar action against Boeing’s 737 Max. “Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft,” Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief, Daniel Elwell, said in a statement on Tuesday.
The last time a new model has been involved in two deadly accidents in such a short period was in the 1970s, when the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 suffered successive fatal incidents.