Boeing had been gearing up for the much anticipated debut of its long-haul 777X aircraft this week but instead it’s been left grappling with the grounding of nearly two-thirds of its best-selling plane since the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight that killed 157 people.
The aerospace giant, which cancelled the ceremonial factory rollout of its wide-bodied aircraft, is facing increased pressure to dispel safety concerns about its 737 Max plane after regulators, including in the European Union and China, put most of the global fleet out of action.
The regulators’ decision has been prompted in part by an eerie similarity between the Ethiopian Airlines crash and last October’s Lion Air disaster in the Java Sea, which killed 189 people. The plane that crashed in Indonesia was also a 737 MAX. That tragedy also took place moments after takeoff and involved issues with the flight control.
But many security experts say it’s too early to draw conclusions. Investigators are yet to decode the black boxes from the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines’ aircraft to determine what exactly happened during the short flight.
Boeing did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Read more: Boeing 737 MAX: a plane of compromise
Boeing faces big claims after the tragedy in Ethiopia, Reuters reported citing industry sources.
First to get off the block was troubled Norwegian Air, which said it will seek compensation from the plane maker for lost revenue and extra costs resulting from the grounding of its fleet of 737 MAX.
“It’s quite obvious that we will not take the costs related to the new aircraft that we have to park temporarily,” Norwegian Air Chief Executive Bjorn Kjos said in a video message. “We will send the bill to those who produce this aircraft.”
Norwegian is one of the worst affected among European airlines.
Bernstein Research analyst Daniel Roeska said the airline may lose around 400,000 Norwegian krone (€ 41,000, $46,000) per 737 MAX per day if it’s forced to keep the planes grounded for a prolonged period of time.
Norwegian currently operates 18 Boeing 737 Max and has another 92 on order.
“We have no plans to make any changes in the deliveries,” Norwegian spokeswoman Astrid Mannion-Gibson told DW.
US keeps 737 MAX afloat
The US Federal Aviation Administration has so far refused to ground the 737 Max fleet.
“Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft,” it said in a statement on Tuesday. “Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action.”
Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg is also confident about the safety of the 737 Max, Reuters news agency reported, citing Muilenburg’s email to employees.
The plane maker has lost more that $26 billion in market value since the crash — a rare slump considering investors are not really known to be spooked by such tragedies.
The single-aisle 737 MAX, first delivered in May 2017, has been Boeing’s best-selling plane ever with more than 350 planes registered and about 5,000 planes on order.
Not the first time
It’s not the first time a Boeing aircraft has been grounded.
In 2013, the company’s 787 Dreamliner fleet was grounded for over three months after a lithium-ion battery caught fire aboard a parked 787 in Boston. Days later, an overheated battery aboard a Dreamliner operated by Japan’s All Nippon Airways forced an emergency landing.
Investigators later found that the batteries had a design flaw and that it should not have been certified by the FAA.
The grounding of the 737 MAX has so far had a limited impact on global operations.
“The 737 MAX makes up less than 1 percent of the global airline fleet and most operators have been able to reconfigure their operations in the short term to limit the impact on passengers,” Flightradar24 spokesman Ian Petchenik told DW.
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