In Summary
  • More countries and airlines joined the growing list of those grounding the 737 MAX jetliner after two of the planes crashed in five months, killing 346 people

Dar es Salaam. US federal aviation authorities said Monday they will order Boeing to modify its 737 MAX 8 aircraft, including anti-stalling software and maneuvering system updates, in the wake of a snowballing crisis over the safety of the aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration told international civil aviation authorities that it “anticipates mandating these design changes... no later than April,” although it did not ground the fleet.

But more countries and airlines around the world joined the growing list of those grounding the 737 MAX jetliner after two of the planes crashed in five months, killing 346 people. The first crash was by Lion Air in Indonesia, in October 2018, in which 189 people died and Sunday’s crash by Ethiopian Airline that claimed the lives of 157 people in its airspace.

Boeing is also set to update its training requirements and flight crew manuals to reflect the changes.

“The FAA continuously assesses and oversees the safety performance of US commercial aircraft,” it said earlier. “If we identify an issue that affects safety, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action.”

The FAA has notified other global civil aviation authorities that it may soon share safety information concerning Boeing’s 737 MAX 8, the statement said.

It is especially rare that a new aircraft model is involved in two deadly incidents over such a short period of times. An FAA team is currently in Ethiopia participating in a probe into the latest crash with investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board. The cause of the crash remains unknown, but the airline says investigators have recovered the black box flight recorders from the Nairobi-bound jet.

Global reaction

But even as the US authorities gave that assurance, more than a dozen countries and several airlines joined the growing list of those grounding the 737 MAX series jets.

The countries that have so far banned the aircraft include UK, China, Norway, Malaysia, Oman, Australia, South Korea, Argentina, Singapore, Indonesia and Mongolia. Airlines that have grounded the jetliner include Ethiopian Airline, Comair of South Africa, Cayman Airways, Gol Airlines of Brazil, Aeromexico and Argentina’s flagship carrier Aerolineas Argentinas.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement headlined “Boeing 737 MAX Aircraft” that “as a precautionary measure” it had decided “to stop any commercial passenger flights from any operator arriving, departing or overflying UK airspace.”

China, a hugely important market for Boeing, had already ordered domestic airlines to suspend operations of the plane Monday, as did Indonesia.

Aviation regulators in Singapore, a global air travel hub and popular transit point for long-haul travellers, said they would work with the country’s main airport and “the affected airlines to minimise any impact to travelling passengers”.

One Singapore airline, SilkAir, uses 737 MAX aircraft while a handful of foreign airlines operate the planes in the city-state.

Australia’s regulator said it regretted “any inconvenience to passengers but believes it is important to always put safety first”. Only one Fijian airline is affected by the Australian ban.

South Korea meanwhile ordered the only airline in the country that operates the jets to suspend operations of its two MAX 8s. Argentina’s flag carrier also grounded five MAX 8 aircraft on Tuesday, as did airlines in countries including South Africa, Brazil and Mexico.

But several airlines have said they are not cancelling MAX 8 flights, while US carriers appear to maintain confidence in the manufacturer.

“The Boeing 737 MAX is a highly sophisticated aircraft,” said India’s SpiceJet, which has 13 of the model 8 variant in its 75-strong fleet.

“It has flown hundreds of thousands of hours globally and some of the world’s largest airlines are flying this aircraft,” it said in a statement.

‘Significant industry impact’

Boeing has described the MAX series as its fastest-selling family of planes, with more than 5,000 orders placed to date from about 100 customers. Some 300 plus of the MAX 8 Model are currently in operation around the world.

But not since the 1970s -- when the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 had successive fatal incidents -- has a new model been involved in two deadly accidents in such a short period.

The weekend crash sent Boeing shares nosediving as much as 12 percent on Monday. “I think the impact for the industry is significant,” said Gerry Soejatman, a Jakarta-based aviation analyst.