UK, Australian Authorities Among Latest To Ground 737 Max

 - March 12, 2019, 9:22 AM
Norwegian has grounded all of its Boeing 737 Max 8s on the recommendation of European safety authorities. (Photo: Norwegian)

The UK and Australia on Tuesday joined the list of countries to temporarily bar the Boeing 737 Max from operating in their territories, as the fallout from the crash of Ethiopia Airlines Flight 302 continues to build. The UK had registered five Max 8sall with TUIand expected a sixth to enter service this week. Meanwhile, Norwegian Air Shuttle operates 737 Max 8s into and out of the UK and has decided to ground its Max fleet on the recommendation of "relevant" European authorities.

Although no Australian airlines fly the Max, two carriers from the region operated scheduled service with the type into that country. One of them—Singapore’s SilkAir—has already grounded its Max 8s. Meanwhile, Fiji Airways stands as the other operator to feel the effects of the suspension. Although that airline declined to voluntarily ground its pair of Max 8s, it will need to use other airplane models as substitutes for its service into Australia. 

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority said it would “closely monitor the situation” while it awaits more information from Boeing, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and accident investigators. As of Tuesday morning, Australia joined China, Indonesia, and Singapore in ordering the suspension of any operation of the Max in their territories following Sunday’s crash 30 miles southeast of Addis Ababa. Several airlines have also voluntarily grounded their fleets, including Ethiopian Airlines, whose fleet now consists of five Max 8s. Others include Cayman Airways, Comair of South Africa, Aeromexico, and Aerolineas Argentina. 

Although authorities in Ethiopia have possession of the flight data and cockpit voice recorders found at the scene of the accident, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam on Tuesday said they would need to send the devices out of the country for examination. Sunday’s crash killed all 157 people on board.

The second crash of a Max 8 in less than five months has raised calls from at least two members of the U.S. Congress for the FAA to ground all the Max jets flying under its jurisdiction. The FAA, however, has only issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) that reiterates directives arising from the October 29, 2018 crash of a Lion Air Max 8 into the Java Sea, in which 189 people died.

“External reports are drawing similarities between this accident and the Lion Air Flight 610 accident on October 29, 2018,” said the FAA. “However, this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions.”

The CANIC, however, noted that it planned to issue an airworthiness directive (AD) next month that codifies certain flight control design changes underway at Boeing. The design changes include activation and angle-of-attack signal “enhancements” and maximum command limit of the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS). Meant to improve pitch response at high angles of attack and prevent pilots from raising the airplane’s nose too high, the MCAS in the 737 Max 8 and Max 9 does not appear in the 737 NG. Engineers made the change to address differing stall characteristics in the Max resulting from its larger and heavier CFM Leap-1B engines. The MCAS can, however, force the airplane into a dive under circumstances such as faulty inputs from its angle of attack sensor, potentially leading to a crash, according to a November 7 emergency airworthiness directive issued by the FAA.

Although no authority has drawn a direct connection between the Ethiopian and Lion Air accidents, China did point out certain parallels in its decision to ground the 96 Max airplanes registered in that country following the latest crash. In its order, the Chinese CAA said it grounded the fleet “in line with the management principle of zero tolerance for safety hazards,” noting the fact that the Ethiopian crash and the crash of a Lion Air Max 8 in Indonesia both happened during the takeoff phase and exhibited “certain similarities.”