On 10 March, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 lost contact six minutes after departing from Bole International Airport in the Ethiopian capital, heading to Nairobi. All 157 passengers and crew aboard the Ethiopian Airline flight were killed when the plane crashed south of the town of Bishoftu.
This incident comes after the same model, operated by Lion Air, crashed into the Java Sea after leaving Jakarta. The two accidents in quick succession and the noted similarity between them has led to, on 11 and 12 March, several countries and airlines grounding their fleet of Boeing 737 MAXs due to safety concerns.
Aviation regulators in China, Indonesia, South Korea, Singapore, Argentina, UK, Norway and Australia have suspended flights as a precautionary measure. Other countries that have announced a suspension on some Boeing 737 Max 8 planes are; Brazil, Cayman Islands, Ethiopia, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, South Africa and South Korea. Initial figures show that nearly 40 percent of the fleet of 371 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft worldwide are grounded.
A spokesman for the UK Civil Aviation Authority stated that this is a precautionary measure and that they are in contact with industry regulators to seek the best course of action. The UK’s suspension affects TUI Airways who have five Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft based in the UK. The other leading operator of this aircraft type flying out of the UK is Norwegian Air Shuttle, which has 18 aircraft. Norwegian Airlines, themselves, issued instructions to stop flights until further notice.
However, several airlines in America have continued operating the aircraft. Southwest Airlines, the largest 737 MAX 8 operator, remains confident in the safety of its entire fleet. In a statement, the airline said, “We have been in contact with Boeing and will continue to stay close to the investigation as it progresses.”
Initial reports suggest that the suspension is expected to last until a risk assessment is conducted on Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes. The Boeing Company issued a statement claiming that, at present, they will not issue new guidance to operators.
It is unclear how long the aircrafts will remain grounded as there is not sufficient data on the cause of the accident. This means that cancellations, delays and other travel-related disruptions are anticipated. A number of other airlines have stated that they are monitoring the situation and therefore further bans may still be issued. So far minimal disruptions have been experienced with two Istanbul to London Gatwick flights being turned around during flight to return to Istanbul. Boeing have a large fleet of planes and it is likely that flights will continue with replacement aircrafts. Travellers should continue to check their itinerary and consult with their travel provider or airline official to check the status of their flight.
Despite the groundings, the fact that the 737 MAX is a new aircraft, airlines only have them in limited numbers. This has limited the impact of the groundings on airlines. Additionally, the regular, older 737s remain in use. Various models of these planes have been flying since 1967 and the aircraft has one of the best safety records among modern aircraft. Airlines and Boeing take safety extremely seriously, travellers should not be concerned regardless of what aircraft they are flying.