CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The latest version of Boeing Co’s best-selling 737 family – a global industry workhorse – has again been thrust into the spotlight after a fatal crash in Ethiopia, months after a deadly crash involving an identical brand-new jet in Indonesia.
A Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 MAX 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Adaba, killing all 157 on board. The same model flown by Lion Air crashed off the coast of Indonesia in October, killing all 189 on board.
There are still unanswered questions about the causes of the Lion Air crash, and officials and safety experts said it was too soon to draw links with the Ethiopian incident.
Boeing did not respond to questions about the 737 MAX 8 on Sunday but said in a statement it would send a technical team to the crash site to provide assistance.
Boeing’s 737 MAX is the newest version of a jet that has been a fixture of passenger travel for decades and the cash cow of the world’s largest aircraft maker.
The decades-old 737 family is considered one of the industry’s most reliable aircraft.
Boeing rolled out the fuel-efficient MAX 8 in 2017 as an update to the already redesigned 50-year-old 737.
Former NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said the catastrophic crashes of two new airplanes soon after the 737 MAX 8 was introduced were “highly unusual” and both had broad similarities in that they went down soon after takeoff.
While it is unclear if there is a direct link, “this is now an extraordinary issue” for aviation safety officials to grapple with and will prompt a sweeping investigation to determine if there are common issues, Mr Rosenker said.
Aviation analyst Scott Hamilton cautioned against drawing comparisons between the two crashes, especially before the black box recorders are recovered. Ethiopian has a strong reputation and good safety record, he said in a blog post.
Still, the crash puts fresh pressure on Boeing just days before it had planned an event to debut another aircraft.
Late Sunday, Boeing said it would postpone the planned ceremonial debut of its 777x widebody aircraft that had been set for Wednesday in Seattle and was to be livestreamed.
The company said it is focused on “supporting” Ethiopian Airlines and “will look for an opportunity to mark the new plane with the world in the near future.”
Following the Lion Air crash, Boeing faced criticism from some US pilot unions for not having detailed in its flight manual a change in the way that software on the MAX reacts in a stall compared with a previous version.
Boeing has insisted that cockpit procedures were already in place to deal with problems that the Lion Air jet experienced.
A preliminary report into the Lion Air crash focused on airline maintenance and training, as well as the technical response of the anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor, but did not give a reason for the crash.
Since then, the cockpit voice recorder was recovered and a final report is due later this year.