Multiple airlines around the world, along with the countries of China and Indonesia, have decided to ground Boeing 737 Max-8 planes in the wake of a crash on Sunday that killed 157 people. The crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 was the second by a Boeing 737 Max-8 in the past five months. This past October, a Max-8 that was operated by Lion Air crashed off the coast of Indonesia and killed all 189 people on board.
As of early Monday morning, no major U.S.-based airlines have halted flights of their Max-8 aircraft.
Cayman Airways and Ethiopian Airlines announced this morning that they would ground all Boeing 737 Max-8 planes shortly after China’s Civil Aviation Administration ordered all Chinese airlines to stop flying the Max-8. Boeing started delivering the new model to airlines this past summer and China already had 97 of the aircraft in operation, reports CNN.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed shortly after takeoff on Sunday from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and was comprised of citizens from at least 35 countries, including eight Americans. Officials at Ethiopian Airlines are still trying to determine what caused yesterday’s crash; the plane’s black box was recovered today, though it’s reportedly damaged.
“These kinds of things take time,” Kenya’s transport minister, James Macharia, who’s assisting with the investigation in Ethiopia, told the Associated Press this morning.
Boeing’s 737 is the company’s most popular jet around the world, and U.S.-based airlines have not announced any plans to ground the newest model of the 737, the Max-8. Delta and United told Gizmodo they do not operate any Max-8 aircraft, although United Airlines said it currently has 14 of the Max-9 model in its fleet.
American Airlines, which says it currently has 24 Boeing 737 Max-8 planes in operation, told Gizmodo over email that it has “full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members.”
“American Airlines extends our condolences to the families and friends of those on board Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. At this time there are no facts on the cause of the accident other than news reports,” a spokesperson from American’s media relations office told Gizmodo.
Southwest told Gizmodo that it currently operates a fleet of 34 Max—8 aircraft and does not currently have plans to ground them. “Our heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the passengers and Employees on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302,” a spokesperson said in an email, adding: “We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of our fleet of more than 750 Boeing aircraft.”
Alaska Airlines has not yet responded to our request for comment.
But the anecdotes emerging about both the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 and this weekend’s crash in Ethiopia are frighteningly similar. Both planes’ flight paths reportedly show the planes rising then descending then rising again before crashing, suggesting automated systems believed that the nose of the plane was too high. In that situation, the automation in the planes would push the nose of the aircraft down in an effort to keep it from stalling, even though it wasn’t in real danger of doing so. The pilots would then manually attempt to bring the nose back up, but there’s speculation that the pilots may have been unable to properly override the computers.
Australian TV media reported this morning that a Boeing software update would soon be sent to carriers, but Gizmodo could not independently verify that claim.
Boeing provided this statement to Gizmodo:
We have engaged our customers and regulators on concerns they may have - and would refer you to them to discuss their operations and decisions. Safety is our number one 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. The investigation is in its early stages, but at this point, based on the information available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.
Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team. A Boeing technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
Other airlines around the world, including Singapore Airlines, are taking a wait-and-see approach to the Max-8 aircraft in its fleet. As the Daily Beast notes, there is no other model of airplane in recent history that has had two major crashes so soon after delivery.
American-based carriers are waiting to potentially ground any of their Max-8 aircraft as well, by broadly gesturing at the fact that they haven’t received any warnings to do so.
“We continue to work closely with Boeing, FAA and NTSB. We have not made any changes to our current flight schedule,” a spokesperson for American told Gizmodo over email.
Boeing is in for a rough week ahead, as the Wall Street Journal notes that 5,526 of the Max-8 were on order and yet to be delivered to airlines around the world. Shares in Boeing are down over 10 percent in premarket trading.
Update 9:25am: Added comment from Southwest.
Update 10:52am: Added comment from Boeing.
Update, March 13: Updated to remove a reference to JetBlue, which does not have any of the Max-8 in its fleet.