Ethiopia, China and Indonesia ground 737 Max 8 planes

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Rescuers work beside the wreckage of the Ethiopian Airlines’ aircraft at the crash site, some 50 km east of Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on Sunday. Xinhua

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian Airlines has grounded its Boeing Co 737 MAX 8 fleet until further notice, the airline said on its Twitter account yesterday, a day after a crash killed all 157 people on board one of its planes of the same type.

“Although we don’t yet know the cause of the crash, we had to decide to ground the particular fleet as extra safety precaution,” the airline said.

Ethiopian Airlines has a fleet of four 737 MAX 8 jets, not counting the one that crashed on Sunday, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.

China’s aviation regulator also said yesterday that it had ordered Chinese airlines to suspend their Boeing Co 737 MAX aircraft operations by 6pm (1000 GMT) while Indonesia’s Transport Ministry ordered the temporary grounding of the aircraft pending airworthiness checks.

An Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 bound for Nairobi crashed minutes after take-off on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board.

It was the second crash of the 737 MAX, the latest version of Boeing’s workhorse narrow-body jet that first entered service in 2017.

In October, a 737 MAX 8 operated by Indonesian budget carrier Lion Air crashed 13 minutes after take-off from Jakarta on a domestic flight, killing all 189 passengers and crew on board.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in a statement it would notify airlines as to when they could resume flying the jets after contacting Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure flight safety.

“Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing 737-8 planes and happened during take-off phase, they have some degree of similarity,” the CAAC said.

The cause of the Indonesian crash is still being investigated. A preliminary report issued in November, before the cockpit voice recorder was recovered, focused on airline maintenance and training and the response of a Boeing anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor but did not give a reason for the crash.

Chinese airlines have 96 737 MAX jets in service, the state company regulator said on Weibo.

In Jakarta the transport ministry in a statement yesterday ordered all 737 Max 8 planes to be grounded from today pending safety checks.

They can be returned to service only after being certified by flight inspectors, Polana B Pramesti, director general of civil aviation, said in the statement.

Ten of the 11 grounded jets belong to PT Lion Mentari Airlines, the ministry said, while the remaining one was operated by flag carrier PT Garuda Indonesia.

A Boeing spokesman declined to comment.

A US official told Reuters the United States was unsure of what information China was acting on.

The US official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said there were no plans to follow suit given the 737 MAX had a stellar safety record in the United States and there was a lack of information about the cause of the Ethiopian crash.

Western industry sources say China has been at pains in recent years to assert its independence as a safety regulator as it negotiates mutual safety standard recognition with regulators in the United States and Europe.

In 2017, it signed a mutual recognition deal with the FAA, but industry sources say it has struggled to gain approval from the FAA that would allow it to sell its C919 airliner to Western airlines.

According to flight tracking website FlightRadar24 there were no Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes flying over China as of 0043 GMT yesterday.

Cayman Airways has grounded both of its new 737 MAX 8 jets until more information was received, the Cayman Islands airline said in a statement on its website.

Fiji Airways said it had followed a comprehensive induction process for its new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft and it had full confidence in the airworthiness of its fleet.

“We continue to ensure that our maintenance and training programme for pilots and engineers meets the highest safety standards,” the airline said.

Singapore Airlines Ltd, whose regional arm SilkAir operates the 737 MAX, said it was monitoring the situation closely, but its planes continued to operate as scheduled.

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