Boeing faces scrutiny after another 737 MAX crash

The new model, which has sent stock prices soaring, was involved in Ethiopian Airlines’ crash Sunday and a similar disaster last fall. Can the company assure people that its planes are safe?


Boeing faces a hard question: Why have two of its new 737 MAX aircraft crashed in the last six months?

After an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed Sunday, killing all 157 people aboard, speculation has grown about the aircraft—which was also involved in Indonesia’s Lion Air disaster, which killed 189 people in October.

The plane has been a best-seller for the airplane manufacturer, particularly in China. However, China has now grounded the model, and stock prices are falling for the U.S. aeronautics company.

One puzzling aspect of the crashes has been that the planes were brand new.

The New York Times reported:

The plane, delivered to Ethiopian Airlines in November, was new, just like the Lion Air airplane that plunged nose down into the Java Sea last October, minutes after taking off from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

Flight 302 took off in good weather, but its vertical speed became unstable right after takeoff, fluctuating wildly, according to data published by FlightRadar24 on Twitter. In the first three minutes of flight, the vertical speed varied from zero feet per minute per hour to 1,472 to minus 1,920 — unusual during ascent.

“During takeoff, one would expect sustained positive vertical speed indications,” Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for FlightRadar24, said in an email on Sunday.

The plane has become a big problem for Boeing—and some countries and carriers have lost faith in the aircraft.

Bloomberg reported:

China ordered its carriers to ground all 96 of Boeing’s newest 737 model, while Indonesia said it would also halt flights after Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 went down in a field shortly after takeoff Sunday, killing all 157 people on board. While the flight recorders have now been recovered and must be analyzed, the disaster bore similarities to the doomed Lion Air 737 Max that also crashed in October.

The 737 Max is Boeing’s most important aircraft type, generating almost one-third of the company’s operating profit and forming the backbone of many global airline fleets who use the model and Airbus’s competing A320 family on shorter routes. Boeing sank 8.6 percent to $386 in early U.S. trading. That would would mark the biggest drop since January 2016, and pose a threat to the rally under Muilenburg, who’s overseen a tripling in the shares since taking over at at the biggest U.S. exporter.

“Boeing has lost control of the timetable to provide the safe, reliable solution,” said Neil Hansford, chairman of the Australian consultancy firm Strategic Aviation Solutions. “The longer it goes, the more chance Boeing has of losing orders.”

China’s authorities explained their decision.

The Washington Post reported:

“There were certain similarities in the fact that two air crashes were newly delivered Boeing 737-8 aircraft, and they both occurred in the takeoff phase,” the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration said in a statement referring to the crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. All planes of that model would be grounded until further notice according to Chinese policies allowing “zero tolerance for safety hazards” and risks, the agency said, adding that it would also consult with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing.

Airlines around the world were tweeting about their plans for the 737 MAX planes in their fleets.

Boeing hasn’t said much, other than expressing condolences, offering to send technical support to the crash site in Africa and canceling its planned release of a new model.

The Washington Post reported:

A spokeswoman for Boeing China said the company was staying in touch with all of its customers and government regulators and working closely with the investigative team in Ethiopia to understand the cause of the crash.

The company also shared a brief statement in its newsroom.

It read:

Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team. A Boeing technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Ethiopian Airlines has kept consumers informed about its crisis with a series of bulletins, all shared from its Twitter handle.

The Ethiopian crash has focused concerns on the aircraft itself because of the airline’s otherwise sterling safety record.

The New York Times wrote:

Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s biggest carrier, is widely considered its best and has expanded rapidly in recent years, opening new routes all over the continent.

The airline has ordered 30 of the Max 8 planes and already had five in its fleet, with the first being delivered last year, according to FlightRadar24. …

There has not been a crash involving Ethiopian Airlines since January 2010, when a Boeing 737 crashed into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after it took off from Beirut, Lebanon. None of the 90 people onboard that flight — 82 passengers and eight crew members — survived.

Ethiopian Airlines said on Sunday that the captain of the flight, Yared Getachew, 29, had more than 8,000 flying hours and a “commendable performance.”

The plane, which underwent a “rigorous first check maintenance” on Feb. 4, had flown back to the Ethiopian capital from Johannesburg, South Africa, on Sunday morning, according to the airline.

“Ethiopian Airlines is very, very highly regarded; it’s part of the Star Alliance,” Graham Braithwaite, a professor of safety and accident investigation at Cranfield University in Britain, said by phone on Sunday.

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