Chinese airlines have been ordered to ground their Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes, after the modern jet suffered a second fatal crash in just five months – with its aviation watchdog noting disturbing similarities between the incidents.
“Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing 737-8 planes and happened during take-off phase, they have some degree of similarity,” the Civil Aviation Administration of China said Monday, emphasizing its principle of zero-tolerance on any safety hazards.
All Chinese domestic airlines were requested to suspend operation of the 737-8s by 6:00pm local time (10:00am GMT) and, according to local media and flight tracking resources, on most routes the jet has already been replaced with older-generation planes.
With the first 737 MAX crash in late October still under investigation, the tragedy on Sunday that claimed 157 lives might well have been a coincidence, but security concerns and the potential grounding of the entire MAX fleet would severely impact Boeing’s business. A Boeing spokesman declined Reuters’ request for a comment.
Bloomberg, citing Caijing, reports that China has asked domestic operators to ground their 737 MAX aircraft. While we have yet been unable to officially confirm such, this is the number of 737 MAX flights above China now vs. the same time last week. https://t.co/TE7hHmsyB3 pic.twitter.com/BBjofQeXG8
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) March 11, 2019
Chinese carriers account for about 20 percent of the plane’s sales, with dozens of Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets already in operation and many more scheduled for delivery. China Southern Airlines Co. has the biggest fleet, with 16 of the aircraft, while Air China Ltd. currently operates 14 jets. China Eastern Airlines Corp. has 13.
‘Some degree of similarity’
While the US manufacturer continues to emphasize the jet’s “unmatched reliability” and to market MAX 8 as the customer’s preferred choice for “comfortable flying experience,” the latest generation Boeing 737 has a gloomy track record since its commercial debut in 2017, having been involved in two fatal crashes in the last five months.
On October 29, 2018, a two-months-old jet belonging to Indonesian low-cost airline Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea, just 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta. All 189 on board died. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but early reports indicate that the pilots struggled to control the climb due to an autopilot system malfunction, which kept on forcing the jet’s nose to dive.
A similar fate was suffered by Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on Sunday when its 737 MAX 8 crashed some six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi, Kenya. The aircraft was only four months old. All 149 passengers and eight crew members on board died.
The tragedy of a truly international magnitude on Sunday killed three Russians, eight Americans, four Indians and eight Chinese citizens – in addition to 18 Canadians, 32 Kenyans, eight Italians, nine Ethiopians, six Egyptians, three Australians, four Slovaks and five Dutch persons. Morocco and Poland each lost two of its nationals. Among the passengers were 19 UN Workers representing different nationalities.
While Boeing has sent an investigative team to get to the bottom of the tragedy, Swedish flight-tracking website flightradar24 said the jet displayed an “unstable vertical speed” during its takeoff. Despite worldwide concerns over the aircraft’s safety, Boeing has yet to make a decision on whether to ground the planes globally, pending investigation. Currently 350 units of the 737 MAX have been delivered worldwide. Another 4,661 are planned for delivery.