Carrier joins China and Cayman Islands in suspending new jets after second tragedy in four months
Ethiopian Airlines has joined carriers in China and the Cayman Islands in suspending the use of Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after a crash on Sunday killed all 157 people onboard.
Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302, on its way to Nairobi from Addis Ababa, crashed six minutes after takeoff, ploughing into a field near Tulu Fara village outside the town of Bishoftu, 40 miles south-east of the Ethiopian capital.
The cause of the crash has not yet been determined, but the disaster was the second involving the new aircraft in the past four months. In October, a Lion Air plane crashed into the sea off the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, killing all 189 people onboard.
“Although we don’t yet know the cause of the accident, we have to decide to ground the particular fleet as an extra safety precaution,” Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest carrier, said.
Earlier on Monday, China’s aviation authorities ordered the country’s airlines to ground their Boeing 737 Max 8 jets.
Referring to the Boeing 737 Max 8 as a Boeing 737-8, the civil aviation administration of China said it made the decision “in view of the fact that the two air crashes were newly delivered Boeing 737-8 aircraft” and had “certain similarities”.
The grounding of the planes was “in line with our principle of zero tolerance for safety hazards and strict control of safety risks”, the regulator added.
Approximately 60 of the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes have been delivered to about a dozen Chinese airlines since the new craft was released. Chinese carriers made up about 20% of deliveries of the model through January, according to Bloomberg. On Monday, two Chinese airlines told the Guardian they had begun using Boeing 737-800 aircraft instead of the Max 8.
Cayman Airways, which also flies the Boeing 737 Max 8 craft, also announced it would ground the planes while the investigation into the crash took place. The Cayman Airways president and chief executive, Fabian Whorms, said the airline was “putting the safety of our passengers and crew first”.
More than 300 Boeing 737-MAX planes are in operation and more than 5,000 have been ordered worldwide since 2017.
In Britain, the holiday operator Tui Airways ordered 32 Max aircraft as part of a fleet overhaul and took delivery of its first Max 8 in December. Tui was the first UK-registered airline to receive one of the new Boeing aircraft and plans to roll out its orders over the next five years.
Several airlines told the Guardian they did not intend to ground their flights, including Fiji Airways, which said it had “full confidence in the airworthiness of our fleet”.
SpiceJet and Jet Airways, the two Indian carriers who fly the jet, are yet to publicly comment on whether they will ground their fleet of the aircraft, but standard operating procedure for airlines in the country is to await the manufacturer’s report on a crash before deciding if action is necessary.
BOC Aviation, an aircraft leasing company based in Singapore, which has five Boeing Max 8, 9 and 10 aircraft in service with lessees and a further 90 on order, said it had “no intention of grounding aircraft at this stage or changing our aircraft orders. The data available is limited and we can’t speculate on [what] might have been the cause of the crash.”
Singapore Airlines, which has five Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in the fleet of its regional carrier SilkAir and a further 31 on firm order, said it had not grounded the aircraft and was “continuing to monitor the situation closely”.
Other airlines that have ordered the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes, but are yet to receive delivery of them, including Virgin Australia and Air Niugini, said they had no plans to alter their order and that it was “too early” to comment at this stage.
A spokesperson for Korean Air, which has ordered 30 of the aircraft, told the Guardian: “Korean Air is monitoring the situation closely, and for now we do not have any changes in our existing orders for Boeing 737 Max 8s.”
Boeing said on Sunday it was cancelling an event in Seattle to showcase its new 777X airliner scheduled for Wednesday.
On Sunday, an official at the Indonesian ombudsman’s office and aviation expert, Alvin Lie, told the Jakarta Post the Indonesian government should ground all Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft that were in operation. Indonesia has two airlines that use the planes – Garuda Airlines and Lion Air.
The Lion Air flight plunged into the sea off the coast of West Java 13 minutes after takeoff in October, killing all 189 on board. The crash was the worst aviation disaster in Indonesia in more than two decades.
“The ministry should be ready to temporarily ground all Boeing 737 MAX 8 that are still operating in Indonesia in order to prevent more accidents,” Alvin told the Jakarta Post.
The victims of the Ethiopian Airlines flight came from at least 32 countries. The largest number were from Kenya. Among the dead were 22 UN staff, many heading for an assembly of the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi.
At the opening of the assembly on Monday morning, delegates paid their respects with a moment of silence for the victims. “We have lost fellow delegates, interpreters and UN staff,” said the president of the assembly, Siim Kiisler, Estonia’s environment minister. “I express my condolences to those who lost loved ones in the crash.”