Last Sunday saw the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight that killed 157 passengers from 35 countries, the second fatal flight for a Boeing 737 Max 8 in less than six months. More than 40 countries, including the United States and Canada, have now grounded the planes or refused them into their airspace.
After holding out for several days, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order grounding the planes Wednesday, saying they had new satellite data and evidence that showed the movements of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 were similar to those of Lion Air Flight 610, the flight that crashed into the Java Sea off Indonesia in October 2018 and killed 189 people.
Officials at Lion Air said the sensors on their plane had produced erroneous information on its last four flights, triggering a terrifying automatic nose-down command that the pilots were unable to overcome on its final voyage. Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said its pilots had received special training on how to deal with that problem, and Boeing sent further instructions for pilots after the Lion Air crash.
The 737 Max was supposed to boost Boeing's fortunes for years to come. In addition to the planes that have been grounded, there are more than 4,600 Boeing 737 Max 8 planes on backlog. There are about 370 Max jets in circulation. Impacted airlines also may come knocking on Boeing's door claiming damages. Norwegian Airlines said it would pursue reimbursement from Boeing for lost business and if other carriers follow suit, which could be costly.
Canada’s Transport Minister Marc Garneau relayed his government’s decision to American counterparts before the announcement that the country would deny all Boeing 737 Max 8 flights in Canadian airspace. Hours later, American President Donald Trump announced that the United States would follow suit. President Trump said he had told American Airlines about the decision, as well as Boeing, and all agreed with his administration's decision. Any planes in the air will be grounded upon landing and remain on the ground until further notice while Boeing works on a fix to the aircraft's software.
Air Canada, Southwest, and American Airlines had been the major outliers in resisting a grounding of the planes. Air Canada has 24 Max 8 aircraft (out of 184 in its main fleet), which it uses mainly for domestic and U.S. routes. The U.S.-based Boeing had said it had no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies and did not intend to issue new recommendations about the aircraft to customers.