Chinese civil aviation authorities took the lead worldwide to ground nearly 100 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft as of 6 p.m. March 11, 2019, after one of the planes operated by the African Ethiopian Airlines crashed on March 10. All 157 passengers and crew members on board of the plane, from the country’s capital Addis Ababa to Kenyan capital Nairobi, including eight Chinese nationals, died in the tragedy.
Actually, this is not the first time for a Boeing MAX 8 to be involved in a fatal accident. On Oct. 29, 2018, an Indonesian Lion Air MAX 8 plane crashed over the Java Sea, killing all the 189 people on board.
Those two crashed Indonesian and Ethiopian jets were just put into service in August 2018 and November 2018, respectively. “Considering both accidents took place when newly delivered Boeing 737 MAX 8s crashed just minutes after taking off, they have some degree of similarity,” the Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement on March 11. Despite the fact that the cause of the accident has not been identified, some insiders and U.S. media hinted that the MAX 8’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) has design flaws. According to Fox News and AP reports, many pilots have uploaded flying abnormalities from MAX 8s to the data bank of U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the past months. Since all the information uploaded to the data bank is anonymous, it is very hard to confirm the locations and which airline companies they belong to.
The MAX 8 hit the market in 2017 and is the newer, more fuel-efficient updated version of the traditional 737 jet. As the most well-received airliner in history with a price of about US$100 million per jet, MAX 8 has so far gotten more than 5,000 orders worldwide. It is estimated that it will take Boeing more than six years to finish the manufacturing of all these planes.
Boeing has already handed over 371 MAX 8 jets to air companies worldwide. Among which 96 are now operating in China, accounting for more than a quarter of the world total. According to Chinese aviation authorities, domestic airlines that have MAX 8s in service include Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and many other big-name aviation companies. Grounding so many MAX 8 jets at the same time will surely bring about big economic losses to Chinese airlines. However, by putting passengers’ safety at top priority, it is a responsible, cautious, rational and sagacious action for China to temporarily stop the commercial service of MAX 8s.
Following China’s suit, the whole Europe and many other countries have successively grounded their commercial flights of MAX 8s. As one of the world’s largest manufacturers of commercial aircraft, Boeing should address global safety concerns in a timely and sincere manner. Continuous air crashes have already hurt the image of Boeing. The company’s share price sharply dropped by 11.15 percent on March 11 and further shrunk by 6.1 percent on March 12, witnessing the biggest market value loss of US$26.65 billion in two days since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in 2001. Daniel Putu, general manager of the Indonesia Lion Air, said his company is considering canceling US$22 billion worth of MAX 8 jet orders with Boeing. While being interviewed on March 11, CEO of Boeing Dennis Muilenburg still said the MAX 8 was airworthy and he was confident in the safety of the jet.
On March 11, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also said in a statement that there was no basis to ground the planes. An anonymous U.S. government official even said that there was no reason to ground MAX 8s because the jets have wonderful flying records within the territory of the United States. It is ridiculous for a government official to say so, thereby playing with people’s lives. Does multinational company Boeing only sell jets to U.S. airlines? Are the lives of those dead passengers from other countries inferior to those of Americans? Moreover, eight U.S. citizens also died in the latest crash in Ethiopia.
Better late than never. Under great pressure from all over the world, FAA changed its tone on March 13 by declaring an emergency order to ground all MAX 8 jets in the country after consultation and reaching consensus with Boeing. U.S. President Donald Trump also issued an order on the same day to ground all MAX 8 and even MAX 9 jets effective immediately.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)