Pressure on Boeing Co. escalated after the second deadly crash involving the newest version of its best-selling 737 jet in five months prompted China and Africa’s biggest air carrier to ground all flights of the aircraft.
A day after Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed and killed all 157 people on board, the African carrier decided to halt all its 737 Max 8 planes until further notice. China ordered its carriers to ground all 96 of their aircraft involving the model by 6 pm local time. Elsewhere, Indonesia’s air safety regulator said it’s discussing the possibility of grounding the Boeing planes and South Korea began a special inspection of the aircraft.
For Boeing, the latest disaster soon drew comparisons to a Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people, pushing the Chicago-based planemaker a step closer to a crisis. A blanket grounding of the 737 Max, which generates almost one-third of the company’s operating profit, in China also raised the specter of other countries following suit.
“The B737 Max design is dangerously flawed,” said Mohan Ranganathan, a former commercial pilot and an aviation safety consultant based in the southern India city of Chennai. “There is a definite similarity between Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines Max crashes.”
Shares of Boeing dropped as much as 8.3 percent on the Tradegate exchange in Germany and as much as 8.7 percent in Stuttgart trading.
Chinese airlines accounted for about 20 percent of 737 Max deliveries worldwide through January, according to Boeing’s website, and further purchases of the Chicago-based planemaker’s aircraft are said to have been touted as a possible component of a trade deal with the US.
China Southern Airlines Co. has 16 of the aircraft, with another 34 on order, according to data through January on Boeing’s website. China Eastern Airlines Corp. has 13, while Air China Ltd. has 14, Boeing says. Other Chinese airlines that have bought the Max include Hainan Airlines Holdings Co. and Shandong Airlines Co., the data show.
The single-aisle 737 Max is poised to generate about $30 billion in annual revenue as factory output rises to a 57-jet monthly pace this year, according to Bloomberg Intelligence estimates.
The disaster in Ethiopia followed the crash of Lion Air’s 737 Max off the coast of Indonesia on Oct. 29. A preliminary report into that disaster indicated that pilots struggled to maintain control following an equipment malfunction.
The doomed Ethiopian jetliner left Addis Ababa at 8:38 a.m. local time, and contact was lost six minutes later, the company said in a statement. There were people from 35 nations on board, including 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, nine Ethiopians and eight Americans. The United Nations, which is hosting an environmental conference this week in Nairobi, said it lost 19 staff members in the crash.
The pilot of the ET302 reported problems shortly after takeoff and was cleared to return to the airport, said the airline’s chief executive officer, Tewolde GebreMariam. The 737 Max 8 hadn’t had any apparent mechanical issues on an earlier flight from Johannesburg, he said.
Ethiopian Airlines had five of the planes in operation as of the end of January and orders for a further 25, according to Boeing’s website.
Indonesia’s transportation safety committee said Monday it offered to help with the Ethiopian Airlines crash investigation and will discuss the possibility of grounding Boeing 737 Max jets operated by the nation’s airlines. Jet Airways India Ltd. and SpiceJet Ltd., two Indian airlines that use the 737 Max jet, and the country’s regulators have asked Boeing for information following the Ethiopia crash.
Boeing said earlier that it was preparing to send a technical team to assist the investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines plane, which was delivered new in November to Africa’s biggest carrier.
Boeing also said it is postponing the “external debut” of its 777X model and related media events scheduled for this week because of the accident. There is no change to the plane’s schedule or progress, Boeing said.
In South Korea, authorities have been working with Eastar Jet Co. to ensure the safety of the two 737 Max 8 planes the budget carrier operates, a spokesman for Eastar said Monday. The company is currently the only airline in the country that flies the aircraft and plans to add four more to its fleet this year.
The US Federal Aviation Administration, which originally certified the 737 Max, declined to add to its earlier statement saying it is “closely monitoring developments” in the Ethiopian investigation.
A US-ordered grounding of an entire model of aircraft is extremely rare and in the past has typically not occurred so soon during an investigation when few details are known.
The last time the agency did so was in January 2013 as a result of overheating lithium-ion batteries on Boeing’s 787 model. The agency only acted after the second such incident occurred.