Travellers worried about safety of Boeing 737 Max 8 plane

Above: An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 plane, the same type of aircraft that crashed on Sunday after leaving Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board.
Engine parts at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 yesterday, near the town of Bishoftu, south-east of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. PHOTO: REUTERS
Above: An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 plane, the same type of aircraft that crashed on Sunday after leaving Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board.
An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 plane, the same type of aircraft that crashed on Sunday after leaving Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO/CHICAGO • Passenger confidence in Boeing's 737 Max 8 has taken a hit after the jet's second fatal crash in just five months.

Travellers around the world took to social media to express fears about the plane's safety, or to seek reassurance from the carriers that fly it.

An Ethiopian Airlines B-737 Max 8 crashed on Sunday after leaving Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board.

Some air travellers said they were now too fearful to board one of these planes.

One customer at Southwest Airlines, which has more B-737 Max jets on order than any other carrier, changed flights to another aircraft after discovering the plane was a B-737 Max.

Another asked if Air Canada was doing extra checks on its Max fleet.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is the biggest operator of the Max 8, with 31 aircraft.

American Airlines and Air Canada said they were closely monitoring the investigation.

 
 

The disaster followed the plunge of a Lion Air B-737 Max into the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia on Oct 29 last year.

A preliminary report into that crash, which killed 189 passen-gers and crew, indicated that the pilots had struggled to maintain control following an equipment malfunction.

But officials and analysts said that it was too early to tell if there was any direct connection between the two crashes.

Connecting the two incidents, social media users expressed concerns to carriers that operate or have ordered the Max, from Ryanair and Garuda Indonesia, to Fiji Airways and Norwegian Air.

The Chinese authorities have already grounded the country's entire fleet of Max 8 planes, while Cayman Airways, the flag carrier of the Cayman Islands, suspended operations of both its Max 8 aircraft.

Any widespread veto by travellers would put extra pressure on American aircraft firm Boeing.

In response, Southwest and Iceland's flag carrier Icelandair were among the airlines to back their choice of aircraft.

Southwest is in contact with Boeing, and "remains confident in the safety and airworthiness of its fleet of more than 750 Boeing aircraft", spokesman Chris Mainz said in a statement.

Icelandair said the B-737 Max carries out around 1,000 trips a day worldwide. The airline has three of the aircraft and has never had an incident, it said.

Boeing has said it is preparing to send a technical team to assist the accident investigation of the Ethiopian Airlines plane, which was delivered new last November.

The latest crash raised fresh questions about the safety of a model that is crucial to the US giant's future plans.

Boeing's 737 is the world's most-sold passenger jet family with more than 10,000 aircraft produced, and is considered one of the industry's most reliable.

The Max 8 is the latest version of the aircraft, which Boeing rolled out in 2017 as an update to the already redesigned 50-year-old 737.

By the end of January, Boeing had delivered to customers 350 narrow-body, twin-engine Max jets out of the total order tally of 5,011 aircraft.

Boeing is already facing a string of lawsuits in the United States over the Lion Air crash, including five cases in the US federal court in Illinois, where Boeing has its Chicago headquarters.

Since the Lion Air accident, the B-737 Max has faced growing scepticism from the aviation community.

The programme had already encountered problems during development.

In May 2017, Boeing halted B-737 Max test flights due to quality concerns with the engine produced by CFM International, a company jointly owned by France's Safran Aircraft Engines and GE Aviation.

Boeing said yesterday that the investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines crash is in its early stages and there is no need to issue new guidance to operators of its Max 8 aircraft based on the information it has so far.

"Safety is our No. 1 priority, and we are taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this accident, working closely with the investigating team and all regulatory authorities involved," a Boeing spokesman said in a statement.

An aviation expert who requested anonymity said Boeing will likely face some backlash in the markets, but the damage will likely be limited for the group, whose only significant competitor is Airbus.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2019, with the headline 'Travellers worried about safety of Boeing 737 Max 8 plane'. Print Edition | Subscribe