- A Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines was the second such plane to crash in five months on Sunday, March 10.
- No cause has been determined, but experts say there are many similarities to the Lion Air crash in October.
- Most countries – including the US, Europe, and China – have all grounded the plane.
- Boeing says it will soon roll out software updates to fix a problem with how the plane flies.
- Boeing’s stock price, as well as shares of related companies, have taken major hits as the investigation continues.
Ethiopian Airlines’ deadly crash on March 10 was the second disaster involving a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in the last five months.
Experts have found several similarities to the crash of Lion Air in October, which prompted the plane to be grounded by most countries, from the US to Europe and China, pending further investigation. Boeing, meanwhile, says it’s working on a software update to the plane that should be ready by the end of march
Here’s what we know so far about the latest crash, any similarities to the Lion Air disaster, and Boeing’s effort to fix the plane so far:
All of the 157 people on board were killed
When the Ethiopian Airlines plane plunged to the ground shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi, all 149 passengers and eight crew were killed.
The airline’s CEO told journalists that those involved hailed largely from African countries, as well as 18 Canadians, eight Americans, and others from a handful of European countries.
One passenger, who accidentally missed the crashed flight by two minutes, said in a Facebook post that he was “grateful to be alive,” despite being angry previously that no staff could help him find his gate.
Boeing, the US-based manufacturer of the 737 Max 8 involved in the crash, said Tuesday it will soon roll out a software update in response to the two crashes.
At the heart of the controversy surrounding the 737 MAX is MCAS or the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation system. To fit the MAX’s larger, more fuel-efficient engines, Boeing had to redesign the way it mounts engines on the 737.
This change disrupted the plane’s center of gravity and caused the MAX to have a tendency to tip its nose upward during flight, increasing the likelihood of a stall. MCAS is designed to automatically counteract that tendency and point the nose of the plane downward.
Initial reports from the Lion Air investigation indicate that a faulty sensor reading may have triggered MCAS shortly after the flight took off.
On Monday, March 19, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg released an open letter to airlines, passengers and the global aviation community giving an update on the investigation and the company’s software update. You can read the full text of that letter here.
Most of the world has banned the plane
Just a few days after the crash, many countries around the world, from Europe and China, all banned the 737 Max from their airspace until a thorough investigation can be completed. The United States, which initially stood by the plane and said it was safe to fly, eventually followed suit.
Globally, 387 of the planes are operated by 59 airlines. Here’s how the number of flights dramatically decreased as countries grounded the plane
Boeing 737 MAX stats
Day: MAX flights tracked
March 03: 1237
March 04: 1251
March 05: 1220
March 06: 1251
March 07: 1256
March 08: 1313
March 09: 1252
March 10: 1257
March 11: 950
March 12: 718
March 13: 111 (until 09:30 UTC)
Currently there are 22 737 MAX aircraft airborne. pic.twitter.com/Mlz5vqAxWg
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) March 13, 2019
Ahead of the crash, multiple pilots in the United States also reported issues with the plane in the months leading up to Sunday’s crash. One pilot said the flight manual was “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient,” according to the Dallas Morning News.
Those complaints were made in the Federal Aviation Administration’s incident database which allows pilots to report issues about aviation incidents anonymously. They highlighted issues with the Max 8’s autopilot system, which had been called into question following the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in October. That incident also involved a Boeing 737 Max 8 plane.
The Seattle Times reported on March 17 that it had reported several issues to Boeing and the FAA four days before the fatal crash.
The crisis is already having a big impact on Boeing’s business
Shares of Chicago-based Boeing have fallen more than 12% since the crash on Sunday, as some airlines have reportedly asked to delay the delivery of the 737 Max 8 aircraft they have on order.
The company’s order book – aircraft that airlines around the world have agreed to purchase – is overwhelmingly comprised of the plane in question.
“We are not surprised by the negative stock reaction, as the 737 represents the strongest backlog, free cash flow (FCF and potential upside from further rate increases,” Ken Hubert, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity, said in a note to clients on Monday.
“We view the risk as less about near term expenses, but the full year 737 delivery estimates for BA could be impacted. We do not expect BA to slow the 737 pull from suppliers. Moreover, the larger risk is the reputational concern for BA,” he continued.
Boeing’s plunge also dragged down the Dow Jones industrial average, of which it comprises a large percentage.
CEO Dennis Muilenburg spoke to President Trump on the phone Tuesday, the company confirmed to Business Insider. A spokesperson offered no details of their conversation, but refuted the New York Times’ claim that the chief executive tried to persuade Trump to not ground the plane like most other countries.
At least one airline, Norwegian, said it will ask Boeing for compensation due to lost revenue from taking the plane out of service.
There could be regulatory penalties too. The U.S. Justice Department was looking at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of Boeing, sources told Reuters on March 19. And a federal grand jury last week issued at least one subpoena to an entity involved in the plane’s development.
Airlines are also taking a hit
Southwest is the US airline most exposed to the 737 Max 8, according to calculations by Joseph Denardi, an analyst at Stifel.
The 737 MAX comprised 2.2% of Southwest’s scheduled available seat miles (ASM) for March, and is projected to grow to 2.6% by June. The airline reportedly said Tuesday that it’s “working with Customers individually who wish to rebook their flight to another aircraft type.”
United Airlines and American Airlines also operate the plane in the US, where there are 74 of them registered according to the FAA. Around the world, 59 airlines operate 387 of the 737 Max 8 and 9, the agency said.
Airline stocks and other related aerospace companies stock prices were also taking a hit this week, Markets Insider reported.
What comes next
The “black box” flight data recorder for Sunday’s crash was found Monday, March 11, Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement. Investigators from the country, assisted by the US’ National Transportation Safety Board, have yet to reach a final conclusion.
Those recorders were sent to France – in what could be seen as a snub to US authorities – for further analysis. Reuters reported Tuesday, March 19 that the two pilots’ voices and communications during the flight could hold they key to finding any further link between the two flights.
Benjamin Zhang and Mark Matousek contributed to this report.
More about the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and the Ethiopian Airlines disaster:
- These are the victims of the Boeing 737 Max 8 crash in Ethiopia
- Southwest has the largest exposure of all US airlines to Boeing’s 737 Max
- The black box from the crashed Ethiopian Airlines flight has been found
- The family of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 captain speaks out after crash that killed 157 people
- A Georgetown University law student who reportedly expressed a fear of flying is among the 157 dead in the Ethiopian Airlines crash
- An Ethiopian Airlines passenger said he missed the crashed flight by 2 minutes: ‘I’m grateful to be alive’
- People of 35 different nationalities were killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, including 8 Americans
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