Following the lead of China, the member states of the European Union, and several other countries, the US has temporarily grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 planes. The ban is a response to the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight headed from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday that led to the deaths of all 157 people on board. This is the second plane crash in less than a year involving this type of plane — a Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by the Indonesian airline Lion Air crashed into the sea last October, killing 189 passengers and crew members — raising questions about the safety of the planes, which are used by airlines around the world.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration announced the temporary ban on Monday, ordering all domestic airlines to stop operating any 737 Max planes in their fleets by 6 pm local time. Indonesia followed suit a few hours later. The fact that China and Indonesia, two of Boeing’s biggest customers, acted so quickly is likely to have a big effect on the manufacturer. “The China groundings definitely increase the pressure on Boeing,” Richard Aboulafia, a vice president of the US aviation intelligence company Teal Group, told the Wall Street Journal. If Boeing doesn’t prove the 737 Max jets are safe, he said, “the damage could get more serious, both in terms of sales and reputation.”
On Tuesday, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia closed their airspace to 737 Max planes in response to the crash, Bloomberg reported. Oman suspended Max flights going to and from its airports. The South Korean airline Eastar Jet suspended flights with its two 737 Max 8 jets, as did the low-cost Brazilian airline Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA and Grupo Aeromexico. More than 25 additional airlines around the world have also grounded their Boeing 737 Max 8 jets.
France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — the three biggest economies in the European Union — also banned Boeing 737 Max 8 planes from their airspace on Tuesday. The EU suspended all Boeing 737 Max 8 flights shortly afterwards.
US regulators took a bit longer to act. President Donald Trump announced the ban on Wednesday afternoon, saying that the US would be issuing an “emergency order to ground all 737 Max 8 and the 737 Max 9, and planes associated with that line,” according to CNN. Three US-based airlines — American, Southwest, and United — have Boeing 737 Max jets in their fleets. (American Airlines has 24 Max 8 jets, Southwest has 34, and United has 14 Max 9s, according to NPR.) “Pilots have been notified, airlines have all been notified. Airlines are agreeing with this. The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern,” Trump said.
The cause of the Ethiopian Airlines crash is still unclear. On Monday, the airline confirmed that the plane’s digital flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder had both been recovered from the crash site. Despite being damaged, the equipment may help investigators determine what happened in the moments before the plane crashed. There are some eyewitness reports, according to the Guardian, but they’re largely contradictory. One man told the BBC that the plane fell sharply and had no apparent damage before hitting the ground; another told Reuters he saw “smoke and sparks coming from the back of the plane” as it fell toward the ground. On Tuesday, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told CNN that the pilot was “having difficulties with the flight control of the airplane” before the crash.
As Vox’s Emily Stewart wrote, Boeing issued a statement on Monday regarding its work developing a “flight control software enhancement” for the 737 Max and said it plans to implement the change by April.
Although we still don’t know what led to this crash — or to the Lion Air crash last October — one thing is certain: Passengers are seemingly afraid of these planes, and Boeing’s stock is dropping steadily as a result. According to Bloomberg, the company’s stock had sunk 11 percent as of 9:37 am Monday, March 11, the biggest intraday decline since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
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