Responding to the recent fatal crash in Ethiopia; China, Indonesia, Singapore and Australia suspended the Boeing 737 Max 8 jets from their skies. Subsequently, another 30 other countries, including the US have also banned the aircraft pending an investigation.
The first 737 Max 8 crash happened in October 2018 when 189 passengers were killed after a Lion Air flight crashed in the Java Sea off Indonesia.
The recent crash has brought the total death toll to 346 people. Consequently, it has raised questions all around the world that the cause of the crashes was due by the software Boeing added to the modern version of its best selling jet.
According to John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transport Safety Board, “never has a worldwide break from U.S. aviation officials happened before.” John has investigated accidents including the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 that killed all 230 people on board. Johns reactions towards countries grounding the 737 planes were “knee-jerk reactions” since details of the Ethiopia crash are still not fully understood.
The U.S. for decades controlled the lead in issuing aviation safety guidance to carriers and countries. By the middle of the next decade, countries decided to instead follow China, to become the world’s largest air travel market according to the International Air Transport Association.
Boeing jets have been grounded before. In January 2013, battery fires on new Boeing 787 Dreamliners made the agency ground the planes that month. The European aviation officials followed the FAA actions, which had certified the planes. By April the 787 was airborne again after the FAA confirmed the planes safe to airborne again.
Last Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would also ground the planes, an announcement that usually belongs to the FAA. Later, Daniel Elwell the FAA’s acting administrator told reporters that this new satellite-data and physical evidence more closely linked the Ethiopian Airlines crash of the Boeing 737 Max on March 10 to that of Lion Air Flight 610 that fell into the Java Sea in Indonesia last October.
Elwell defended the FAA’s decision to hold off on grounding the planes.
“We are a fact-driven, a data-based organization. Since this accident occurred we were resolute in our decision that we would not take the action until we had data to support taking action. That data coalesced today and we made the call.”
Boeing agreed with grounding the planes, and they suggested the decision to the FAA. Boeings stock price has struggled in the last week following the crash and sunk over 11.5% before a slight recovery yesterday. The company are likely to want to rectify the problem as quickly as possible to stop any more fatalities and damage to their reputation.
U.S lack of action
The lack of decisive action by the U.S. regulators drew significant criticism. Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose FAA grounded the Dreamliners in 2013, told CNBC. “Safety can never be compromised,”
However, others like former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune, who before oversaw the production of 737s and 757 at Boeing, suggested the U.S. should wait until it had more information. The FAA states it had no information to warrant grounding the Boeing 737 Max planes based off on Monday and Tuesday.
In the coming weeks, Boeing will release a new software upgrade for its grounded 737 Max aircraft, following the Ethiopian Airlines crash. They expect that the FAA approves the changes in software no later than April 2019.
Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg issued the
following statement regarding the Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit
Moges’s report today. https://t.co/X4UwyUVRJp pic.twitter.com/b8fW3jp4mA
— The Boeing Company (@Boeing) March 17, 2019
Boeing’s plan is to implement updates to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, the planes anti-stalling system.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg stated in an email to his employees “While difficult, I encourage everyone to stay focused on the important work we do. Our customers, business partners and stakeholders depend on us to deliver for them.”
Since the U.S. became more isolated on the issue, airlines were put in a difficult position. To defend their reputation the airlines were changing tickets for free to those travellers who said they were too scared to fly in a Boeing 737 Max 8. Flight attendants’ unions requested for the planes to be grounded and told members they wouldn’t be forced to work on any of the flights.
Following the chaos, Boeing shares lost more than 10 percent in a week, knocking $24.6 billion off its market capitalization. Hopefully, if this issue with the new model is systematic they will be able to fix it before any more disasters occur.