Boeing suspends 737 MAX deliveries as France probes black boxes
US aerospace giant Boeing said it was suspending deliveries of its top-selling 737 MAX as French investigators took delivery of the black boxes from the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 passengers and crew. The MAX has been grounded worldwide following the second disaster involving the model in five months and the fallout has left the company, regulators and airlines scrambling to respond.
"We're pausing the delivery of the 737 MAX until we come up with a solution," a Boeing spokesman said yesterday, adding that "we're going to continue the production, but we're assessing our capacities." France's BEA air safety agency confirmed it has received the black box recorders from the plane, which was just four-month-old and crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa on March 9.
Starting today, BEA investigators will try to retrieve information from the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, which were damaged in the disaster. Thousands of kilometers away, distraught families were demanding answers as they visited the deep black crater where the plane of Ethiopian Airlines, Africa's largest carrier, smashed into a field outside Addis Ababa, the capital, disintegrating on impact.
Ethiopian Airlines sent the black boxes to France because it doesn't have the equipment to analyze the data. The information that they contain helps explain 90% of all crashes, according to aviation experts. On Wednesday, US authorities said new evidence showed similarities between the Ethiopia crash and that of a Lion Air flight in Indonesia in October that claimed the lives of 189 people.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), regulatory body of civil aviation in US, said findings from the crash site near Addis Ababa and "newly refined satellite data" warranted "further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents." An FAA emergency order grounded 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft until further notice, effectively taking the aircraft out of the skies globally.
The move came after a growing number of airlines and countries had already decided not to fly the planes or ban them from their airspace until it was ascertained there are no safety issues. US President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered the grounding of the aircraft and said that the "safety of the American people and all peoples is our paramount concern."
In an interview with the American news channel CNBC, FAA acting chief Daniel Elwell said the agency had been "working tirelessly" to find the cause of the accident but faced delays because of the damage to the flight data recorders.
The new information about Ethiopian airline crash shows "the track of that airplane was close enough to the track of the Lion Air flight", Elwell said on CNBC. Elwell further said, "The airplanes are grounded so we could get more information from the black boxes and determine if there's a link between the two, and if there is, find a fix to that link."
Boeing's shares have fallen 12% in the days after the crash in Ethiopia, wiping out nearly $30 billion in value (Rs. 3,000 crore) The MAX series is Boeing's fastest-selling model, but it is still relatively new with fewer than 500 in service. There are 74 registered in the United States and 387 in use worldwide with 59 carriers, according to the FAA.
The accounts of the recent crashes were echoed in concerns registered by US pilots on how the MAX 8 behaves. At least four American pilots complained following the Lion Air crash that the aircraft would suddenly pitch downward shortly after takeoff, according to documents reviewed by AFP on the Aviation Safety Reporting System, a voluntary incident database maintained by NASA.
In two anonymous reports on flights just after the Lion Air disaster, pilots disconnected the autopilot and corrected the plane's trajectory. It was unclear if US transport authorities review the database or investigated the incidents. However, the US federal aviation authorities (FAA) said this week it had ordered Boeing to modify its 737 MAX 8 aircraft, including anti-stalling software and maneuvering system updates.