China grounded its fleet of Boeing Co. 737 Max 8 jets after a model operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed on Sunday, escalating scrutiny of the best-selling plane that has now been involved in two deadly accidents in five months.
Ethiopian Airlines has also grounded the rest of its fleet until further notice, and Indonesia’s air safety regulator is discussing the possibility of grounding the 737 Max operated by its airlines. In China, domestic carriers have until 6 p.m. local time to ground the 96 737 Max jets in operation there, according to Chinese government statements.
The order came a day after a 737 Max run by Ethiopian Airlines plunged to the ground on its way to Kenya, killing all 157 people on board. Indonesian authorities have offered to help with the African investigation after a 737 Max run by Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea soon after takeoff in October.
A blanket grounding in one of the world’s biggest and influential travel markets is a blow to Boeing’s reputation and a potential threat to the Chicago-based planemaker’s finances, with China’s move raising the prospect other countries could follow suit. 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 U.S.
The single-aisle 737 Max accounts for almost one-third of Boeing’s operating profit and 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 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.
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, which killed 189 passengers and crew, indicated that pilots struggled to maintain control following an equipment malfunction.
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.