Ethiopian Airlines crash: China grounds Boeing 737 Max 8 jets in wake of disaster

China’s aviation authorities have ordered the country’s airlines to ground their Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after a crash in Ethiopia killed 157 people.

The disaster was the second involving the new aircraft in the last four months. In October, a Lion Air plane crashed into the sea off the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, killing all 189 onboard.

On Sunday, Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302, on its way to Nairobi from Addis Ababa, crashed six minutes after take-off. The cause of the crash is unknown, but Cayman Airlines has suspended operations of its two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes while investigations into the cause of the disaster continued.

The civil aviation administration of China (CAAC) issued a notice on Monday at 9am local time ordering domestic airlines to suspend the commercial operation of the Boeing 737- Max 8 aircraft before 6pm.

Referring to the Boeing 737 Max 8 as a Boeing 737-8, the CAAC 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 regulator said the grounding of the planes was “in line with our principle of zero tolerance for safety hazards and strict control of safety risks”. The CAAC said it would be contacting US aviation authorities and Boeing before restoring flights of the aircraft.

Roughly 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 make 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 was ongoing. Cayman Airways president and chief executive Fabian Whorms said the airline was “putting the safety of our passengers and crew first”.

“We have taken the decision to suspend operations of both our new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, effective from Monday March 11, 2019, until more information is received,” the statement said.

Whorms said the company was working in coordination with Boeing and the civil aviation authority of the Cayman Islands to monitor the investigation into flight 302.

More than 300 Boeing 737-MAX planes are in operation and more than 5,000 have been ordered worldwide since 2017.

Boeing said on Sunday that it was cancelling an event in Seattle to showcase its new 777X airliner scheduled for Wednesday.

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.”

BOC Aviation, an aircraft leasing company based in Singapore, which has five Boeing Max 8, 9 and 10 aircraft in service with lessees and another 90 on order said they 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.”

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.

On Sunday, an official at the Indonesian ombudsman’s office and aviation expert, Alvin Lie, told the Jakarta Post that 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.

Data from one of the black boxes retrieved from the Lion Air plane revealed the aircraft had experienced problems with its airspeed indicators on its last four flights.

The head of Indonesia’s national transportation safety committee , Soerjanto Tjahjono, said: “When we opened the black box, yes indeed the technical problem was the airspeed or the speed of the plane. Data from the black box showed that the two flights before Denpasar-Jakarta also experienced the same problem.”

The victims of the Ethiopia Airlines flight came from at least 32 different countries. The largest number were from Kenya.

In a statement, the airline said it would conduct a forensic investigation in conjunction with officials from Boeing, the Ethiopian civil aviation authority, the Ethiopian transport authority and other international bodies.

At least 19 people affiliated with the United Nations were among those killed, according to the head of the UN migration agency. Many were delegates on their way to the UN environment assembly, which was due to start in Nairobi on Monday.

Inger Anderson, the incoming head of the UN environment programme, told the Guardian: “We’re devastated by what transpired. Obviously many of our partners and colleagues are deeply impacted. This is a house in mourning but a house that doesn’t yet know all the facts.” The assembly’s organisers have shared details of emergency hotlines with delegates.

The Ethiopian prime minister’s office sent condolences via Twitter to the families of those lost in the crash.

Eighteen Canadians died in the crash. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, said the event was “devastating”.


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