Plane Perspectives: Ethiopian Flight ET302 and the Boeing 737 MAX

Air crashes are always surprises, but the news, from the Prime Minister of Ethiopia’s twitter account, that Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 flying from Addis Ababa to Nairobi on the morning of  Sunday, March 10 had gone down, was particularly shocking.

The 157 victims of the crash who held nationalities of 30 countries comprised 149 passengers and 8 crew members. Aside from Ethiopia, Kenya was the most affected nation with 32 of the deceased, while eighteen were from Canada, nine from Ethiopia, eight each from China, US and Italy, and seven each from France and the UK. Some of the victims had dual nationalities and that particular early morning flight was popular with diplomats and delegates who shuttled between meetings in the capitals of Ethiopia and Kenya.

Ethiopian Airlines ET 302 became the second fatal crash of a new Boeing 737 Max in the space of a few months, following that of Lion Air Flight 610 which crashed in Indonesia in October 2018.

Investigations have started into the cause of the crash is  with representatives from Boeing, and US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and General Electric (the engine manufacturer who also lost two employees in the crash who worked in their healthcare division) joining up to assist Ethiopian investigators.

In both crash cases, the planes were new, just a few months old, and took off for relatively short flights during which the pilots lost control of the aircraft.

The Boeing 737 is the most successful commercial aircraft in history with over 10,000 built and over 1,000 are in the air at any given minute. But the new MAX series introduced was different in terms of its design, large engines and navigation systems.  At the time of the accident, the 737 MAX-series has 74 aircraft operating in the USA and 389 worldwide, with the largest fleet users being Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and Air Canada.

Boeing had committed to implement a software upgrade in the coming weeks to the MAX that was directed by the US FAA, but after the crash, Ethiopian Airlines announced the grounding of the rest of their 737 MAX fleet. Other airlines and aviation agencies in China, Indonesia and Cayman Airways, Comair (South Africa), GOL (Indonesia), Mongolia, Royal Air Maroc (Morocco) Singapore and Australia also announced the grounding or banning the use of the aircraft temporarily. The latest has been the United Kingdom.

Boeing’s shares dipped when the shares opened on Monday after the crash.

See also:

  • Here’s a rare picture of the ill-fated plane at Boeing Field, USA, prior to delivery to Ethiopian – via Airliner’s Net.
  • Airlines around the world have grounded 40% of the 737 MAX fleet but not US airlines
  • Long before the crash, some frequent flyer avoided flying on the profit-maximizing MAX aircraft over its squeezed cabins, tiny bathrooms and thin seats e.g. American Airlines has 172 seats in the cabin, including 16 first class seats and 30 extra-legroom seats — compared to the 160 seats that it has on 737-800s with the same cabin size.
  • Perspectives from another impactful plane crash a decade ago – that of KQ 507.

EDIT On Wednesday, March 13, President Donald Trump announced the grounding of all 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 models. He had informed aviation authorities and Boeing that this was in the best interests of the safety of all passengers as Boeing works on a solution.

He also extended condolences to the friends and families of victims of the Ethiopia and Indonesia crashes.

Investigations into the crash are ongoing.

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