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Ethiopian Airlines Crash: U.S. Emergency Order Grounds 737 MAX 8 Planes

SmarterTravel

Two models of Boeing’s latest twin 737 MAX 8 jet have crashed in the last six months: An Ethiopian Airlines flight headed for Nairobi on March 8, and October’s Lion Air flight that crashed off Jakarta. Both flights went down shortly after takeoff, killing all onboard. Since Sunday’s crash over 25 airlines grounded their models of the plane. On Wednesday the Trump administration followed other governments, including those of Canada, China, Germany, France, Indonesia, Malaysia, Qatar, and the United Kingdom, in calling for the planes to be grounded and banned the aircraft from domestic airspace.

Clearly, two crashes of the same brand-new aircraft in such a short time period are raising questions about the causes and consequences. Thousands of commercial Boeing 737 MAX 8s had been ordered before the crashes and about 350 were in operation worldwide.

What to Know About the 737 MAX 8 Plane Crashes

Lion Air: The October Lion Air crash has been tentatively blamed on a malfunction of a sensor in the plane’s new control system. The final report is not yet complete, but Boeing did notify all 737 MAX 8 operators about how to avoid a mechanical problem that they believe caused the Lion Air flight to crash.

Ethiopian Airlines: At this writing, there is no evidence whatsoever about the cause of the latest Ethiopian flight. The data recorders have reportedly been located, but authorities will probably need some time to analyze the data if it’s at all useful in determining a cause.

Airlines Typically Flying the 737 MAX: The U.S.-based airlines operating Boeing 737 MAX 8s are American Airlines, which has 24, and Southwest, which operates 34. United operates 14 of the MAX 9, which would probably be affected if any issues were officially found with the MAX 8. Canadian airlines operating the model are Air Canada (41), Sunwing (four), and WestJet (13). European airlines that fly the 737 MAX models are Icelandair (three) and Norwegian (18).

The Response: 737 MAX 8 aircraft have been widely grounded pending a resolution of the causes. Cayman Airways was one of the first to announce it suspended use of the model, and was followed by dozens of airlines. China—the country with the largest fleet of 737 MAX 8s—has also grounded its models. Canada, the U.K., and more have followed suit. Cooler heads said that there isn’t enough information yet to deem grounding necessary, but as of March 13 the model was generally grounded.

The Safety: Almost all mechanically-based plane crashes are one-off events, and they’re treated as such. The safety system that follows is typically that the basic problem is identified and then modifications, rules, or regulations are implemented to prevent a second occurrence. In this latest instance, Boeing had previously notified airlines about the possible problem with the Lion Air crash and seemed to have issued the appropriate corrective directions. But the second crash seems to have put that back into question.

The big question for individual travelers is whether to book away from 737 MAX 8 flights, either for safety fears or concerns about possible grounding or delays. Nobody has a definitive answer yet: It’s up to you to weigh what you know, what the airline tells you, and then decide. But there’s likely still more information to come.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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