Only 6 minutes after takeoff, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, utilizing a 4-month old Boeing 737 MAX 8, has crashed, killing all 157 people on board. Just 5 months ago, in October 2018, the same exact plane model was involved in another, very similar deadly crash in Indonesia. The Lion Air plane crashed just 12 minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 passengers and crew. The two tragic accidents were connected together, making this week a life-changing one for the airline company.
Headquartered in Chicago, Boeing is one of the largest global aircraft manufacturers, and also the fifth largest defense contractor in the world. The primary purpose of the Boeing 737 MAX is to safely carry more passengers on longer distances. The troubled MAX 8 model, involved in both deadly crashes, is brand new for the company, being released in 2017.
Among one of the innovations introduced on the MAX model was the new flight control safety system called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), created with a purpose of sensing if an aircraft is flying at an improper angle. If needed, it’s supposed to put the nose down to prevent a stall. According to experts, an “improper maintenance” of this system was a reason of the Indonesia crash in October. As of press time, while the investigation is still ongoing, it’s not yet clear if that was the same exact reason of the crash in Ethiopia, but the circumstances do show the tragic similarities.
Details of the Boeing crash in Ethiopia
As of now, there are more questions than answers. The Ethiopian Airlines has confirmed that black boxes have been recovered. The Ethiopians are in charge of the investigation, but it’s anticipated they may ask help from the international experts as well.
The plane left the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, the biggest airport in Africa, on Sunday morning. The pilots faced control issues immediately after takeoff, requesting from the airport to return back. All communications were lost in 6 minutes after the takeoff, and it appears the aircraft never reached an altitude above 1,000 feet.
Crash debris was found in a small crater not far from the airport. The compact field of an airplane crash often shows that it was falling down at a steep angle, experts say.
On Monday, following the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stated that they would not ground the 737 Boeing MAX planes without further evidence, which overwhelmed the nation.
“The FAA’s ‘wait and see’ attitude risks lives as well as the safety reputation of the U.S. aviation industry,” said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, largest non-profit airline consumer organization.
Which countries have banned 737 MAX from their skies?
The European Union was the first one to react, grounding all Boeing 737 MAX planes from their skies shortly after Germany, France and U.K. announced national prohibition on Boeing 737 MAX nationwide on Monday afternoon.
Also on Monday, Cayman Islands, a British Overseas Territory, has banned the two 737 MAX jets that Cayman Airways is using.
Australia quickly followed the footsteps of its counterparts, temporarily banning all 737 MAX aircrafts from their space, even though none of the Australian companies currently operate them. According to the country’s statement, the ban affects two foreign airlines, SilkAir and Fiji Airways, which use them for flights to Australia.
Brazil’s Gol Airlines has suspended the use of its seven Max 8 jets. The airline company has stated they’re expecting 25 more jets to be delivered and are hoping to reinstate their use soon.
Canada has lost 18 of its citizens in the Sunday crash – the highest number after Kenya. The Canadian authorities have banned the use of 737 MAX jets in their airspace due to “similar profile,” which was found in the Sunday’s crash and the Lion Air one in October.
China has one of the largest numbers of MAX 8 jets in service worldwide, which belong to Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines. On Monday, the Chinese civil aviation authority ordered those planes to be grounded indefinitely. There were 8 Chinese citizens on the Ethiopian plane on Sunday.
Ethiopia grounded remaining MAX 8 jets as “a safety precaution while the investigation is pending,” according to spokesman for Ethiopian Airlines. Fiji, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Panama, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and United States have joined. Russia banned 737 MAX 8 jets on Thursday, shortly after the U.S. announcement was made.
Why U.S. was one of the last countries to ground Boeing?
Late Tuesday, FAA continued to stand behind the airline corporation.
“The FAA continues to review extensively all available data and aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boeing 737 MAX. Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action. In the course of our urgent review of data on the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, if any issues affecting the continued airworthiness of the aircraft are identified, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action,” said Acting FAA administrator Daniel K. Elwell in an official statement.
As the Boeing’s 737 MAX jets continued to fly in the skies, the public outrage grew. While the media reported more and more countries banning the troubled aircrafts, several congressmen stepped forward.
Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) has urged the FAA to ground the planes immediately, accusing them of “dragging their feet,” which was “unacceptable” when so many people’s lives are at stake.
“Boeing 737 Max 8 planes have already been grounded in Europe, Asia, South America and Africa,” Cohen wrote. “The FAA should be leading the world in aviation safety, not dragging its feet.”
According to the sources close to White House, Boeing CEO called President Trump on Tuesday, asking not to issue the emergency order grounding the planes.
Wednesday late afternoon, Trump did issue emergency order grounding all Boeing 737 MAX jets flying over U.S. territory.
How many U.S. airlines utilize Boeing 737 MAX planes?
Southwest Airlines has the most MAX 8 planes — 34 — used on about 160 of the airline’s 4,000 daily flights, all over the United States.
American Airlines has 24 MAX 8 planes that are used on about 85 of the airline’s 6,700 flights each day.
United Airlines has 14 of the nearly identical but slightly longer 737 MAX 9 planes, which are used on about 40 flights a day.
According to the data analysis from FlyersRights.org, as of Thursday more than 2100 flights in the U.S. have been canceled.
Southwest, American and United are still expecting more of their 737 MAX jets delivered pursuant to their prior order. In the meantime, Boeing reps have stated that while the investigation of the crash is still in progress, they’re looking at a software update as a possible solution.
U.S. pilots have reported issues on the 737 MAX jets before
At least two pilots on the U.S. flights have reported a system malfunction on the 737 MAX jets, which seemed to cause the plane to tilt down suddenly, shortly after the plane was put on autopilot. The pilots were able to quickly regain control of the aircraft by shutting down an automated system. Both reports were voluntary and therefore do not disclose the names of the pilots or further information about the flights. It’s unclear whether any actions were taken by the FAA following the two reports submitted.
Chicago News will continue following further developments, check back for updates on our website at mychinews.com/news.