China, Indonesia, Ethiopian Airlines and Cayman Airways have grounded the Boeing 737 MAX 8 until more is known about the March 10 Ethiopian fatal crash in Addis Ababa—the second fatal accident involving the aircraft type in less than five months.

Ethiopian's decision to ground its four remaining MAX 8s came about 23 hr. after flight ET302, a three-month-old MAX 8, crashed six minutes after departing Bole International Airport early March 10 Addis Ababa time.  All 157 people onboard were killed.

“Ethiopian Airlines has decided to ground all B-737-8 MAX fleet effective yesterday March 10, 2019 until further notice,” the airline said March 11. “Although we don’t yet know the cause of the accident, we had to decide to ground the particular fleet as extra safety precaution.”

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) order was issued March 11 “requesting domestic transportation airlines to suspend the commercial operation” of 737 MAX 8s by 6pm. CAAC cited “the management principle of zero tolerance for safety hazards and strict control of safety risks” in making the move, adding that both MAX 8 accidents occurred “in the takeoff phase” and “have certain similarities.”

CAAC said it “will contact the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing Company” and clear airlines to resume MAX 8 operations “after confirming the relevant measures to effectively ensure flight safety.”

More than 90 MAX 8s are in service with Chinese operators, including Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Hainan Airlines. 

The flight data recorder and cockpit data recorder have both been recovered, according to Ethiopian Airlines.

The Indonesian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said late March 11 that MAX 8s operated by Indonesian airlines would be grounded while additional inspections are carried out. Inspections are to begin as soon as March 12, the DGCA said.

The first MAX crash, of Lion Air JT610 took place Oct. 29, 2018 near Jakarta, Indonesia, and killed all 189 people onboard. Lion Air is an Indonesian-based LCC.

The Ethiopian accident probe is just beginning, and there is no evidence linking the two MAX 8 accidents.

Two Indonesian carriers operate MAX 8s. Lion Air has 10 in its fleet, and Garuda Indonesia has one, according to the DGCA notice. Both carriers have more on order.

Cayman Airways president and CEO Fabian Whorms said the carrier “stands by our commitment to putting the safety of our passengers and crew first by maintaining complete and undoubtable safe operations, and as such, we have taken the decision to suspend operations of both our new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, effective from Monday, March 11, 2019, until more information is received.” 

Cayman has taken delivery of two MAX 8s—one in November and one last week. Its fleet also includes three 737-300s, Aviation Week's Fleet Discovery shows.

“We offer our valued customers our continued assurance that all prudent and necessary actions required for the safe operation of our MAX 8s will be accomplished before the aircraft are returned to service,” he said, adding that “some relatively minor, but necessary schedule and capacity changes will be needed over the next few days to manage the flight schedule.”

The Indonesian JT610 investigation is focusing on the roles of erroneous sensor data, a new flight-control law—the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that was added to the 737 MAX family design to help the aircraft handle like 737NGs—and how the Lion Air crew responded to what they faced.

Information released by Indonesian investigators show JT610’s flight crew struggled to keep the MAX 8’s nose up, apparently working to counter MCAS, which was automatically pushing the nose down in response to the erroneous data. A procedure that would override MCAS was apparently not followed by the JT610 crew, although it is unclear how much they understood about the failure sequence. The aircraft crashed into the Java Sea.

In the days after the Lion Air accident, Boeing issued messages to operators expanding on MCAS, and reiterating that the procedure for overriding automatic, repeated, nose-down inputs remained unchanged from previous 737 models. The FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive requiring MAX operators to update their flight manuals with Boeing’s MCAS information. Boeing’s messages and the mandate did not call for any new training or changes to the system itself.

Boeing has booked more than 5,100 orders for 737 MAX-family aircraft and delivered about 350. The first MAX 8 entered service in May 2017.

 

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@aviationweek.com

Adrian Schofield , adrian.schofield@informa.com