The first Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet delivered to Ethiopian Airlines takes off in July 2018. (Boeing Photo) The Federal Aviation Administration today responded to concerns over Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets by reassuring airlines that the planes were airworthy, despite the fact that the model was involved in two catastrophic fatal accidents in the past five months. , just minutes after the takeoff of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, heading from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Nairobi in Kenya. In its the FAA acknowledged that many reports have pointed out similarities to the , in which 189 people dled. “However, this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions,” the notification said. Airlines in China, Ethiopia, Indonesia and several other countries grounded their 737 MAX 8 jets, pending verification that the planes are safe. It’s not yet clear what effect the FAA’s confirmation of airworthiness will have on those suspensions in service. The FAA has dispatched experts to assist Ethiopian investigators on the ground, Experts from the National Transportation Safety Board, GE Aviation, Boeing and Kenya’s civil aviation agency are on the case as well. “All data will be closely examined, and the FAA will take appropriate action if the data indicates the need to do so,” the FAA said. focused on an automatic control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. The system is meant as a safeguard to keep the plane from stalling under extreme aerodynamic conditions, but there were some signs that the system on the Lion Air 737-8 was receiving spurious data from an angle-of-attack sensor. Today’s notification reviewed actions taken by the FAA to ensure that Boeing’s prescribed safety procedures were adequate. The FAA also noted that some actions are still in process. For instance, Boeing is working on design changes to the MCAS system that will result in less reliance on “procedures associated with required pilot memory items.” “The FAA anticipates mandating these design changes by AD [airworthiness directive] no later than April 2019,” the agency said. Boeing will also update its training requirements and flight crew manuals to reflect the design changes for 737-8 and 737-9 models, The FAA said. The Ethiopian plane’s two “black boxes” — the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder — have been recovered from crash debris, but it’s not yet clear how much data can be retrieved. One witness that smoke was coming from the rear of the plane before it hit the ground. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., urged the FAA to “until their safe use has been confirmed.” The FAA didn’t indicate it would take that step, but promised to take if it identifies an issue that affects safety. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao echoed that view: “I want travelers to be assured that we are taking this seriously and monitoring latest developments.” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, meanwhile, voiced confidence in the 737 MAX line, which is produced at the company’s factory in Renton, Wash. “We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX and in the work of the men and women who design and build it,” . “Since its certification and entry into service, the MAX family has completed hundreds of thousands of flights safely.” He acknowledged that dealing with Sunday’s tragedy was “especially challenging” because it came so soon after the Lion Air crash. “While difficult, I encourage everyone to stay focused on the important work we do,” Muilenburg wrote. CEO to employees: Since its certification and entry into service, the MAX family has completed hundreds of thousands of flights safely. We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX and in the work of the men and women who design and build it. — Kris Van Cleave (@krisvancleave)
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam visits the accident scene. (Ethiopian Airlines Photo via Twitter) Update for 7:45 p.m. PT March 10: Chinese officials asked domestic Chinese airlines to suspend flights of their Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, in light of today’s catastrophic crash in Ethiopia. The crash, which killed all 157 people aboard the plane, was the second fatal accident involving the 737-8 model in less than five months. The earlier crash killed 189 people on a Lion Air flight in Indonesia. , China’s Civil Aviation Administration said it was issuing the suspension notice “in view of the fact that the two air crashes were newly delivered Boeing 737-8 aircraft, and they all occurred in the takeoff phase.” The similarities led officials to declare the suspension “in line with the management principle of zero tolerance for safety hazards and strict control of safety risks.” The agency said it would consult with Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and let Chinese airlines know when flights can be resumed. Separately, Cayman Airlines said it was “until more information is received.” The crash forced the at its factory in Everett, Wash. “Boeing is deeply saddened by the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accident and our focus is on supporting our customer,” company spokesman Paul Bergman said in an email. “In light of this, we are postponing the 777X external debut on March 13 and the related media events. We will look for an opportunity to mark the new plane with the world in the near future.” Previously: Ethiopian Airlines said one of its Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets crashed today, just minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa’s airport en route to Nairobi, Kenya, killing all 157 people aboard. It was the second fatal crash involving a recently delivered 737 MAX 8, following the last Oct. 29. Although it’s too early to speculate about the cause, the fact that two recently delivered 737 MAX 8 jets have been involved in catastrophic accidents during an early phase of flight is drawing attention from analysts. that today’s crash “is raising more intense questions — and speculation than usual after a crash because it comes in the wake of the Lion Air 737-8 crash last year.” “But be cautious about drawing conclusions at this stage,” Leeham’s Scott Hamilton wrote. “Until the black boxes are recovered, information is limited.” At a news conference in Ethiopia, Tewolde GebreMariam, the group CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, also counseled caution. He said Boeing and Ethiopia’s Accident Investigation Bureau would take part in the crash investigation. The U.S. National Transportation Board said it was , with assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration and GE. Kenyan investigators were on their way as well. In a statement, Boeing said it was extended its sympathy and confirmed that it would send a technical team to assist in the investigation. Ethiopian Airlines said Flight 302 was , representing 35 nationalities. Eight Americans were said to be aboard. the flight had arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, earlier in the day from Johannesburg, South Africa, and headed out for Nairobi at 8:38 a.m. local time, flown by a senior captain with more than 8,000 cumulative flight hours. GebreMariam said the pilot reported difficulties just after takeoff from Bole International Airport. The pilot reportedly sought, and was given, permission to return to the airport — but contact was lost at 8:44 a.m., six minutes into the flight. The plane smashed into the ground violently in an area about 20 miles to the southeast, near the town of Bishoftu. A showed GebreMariam at the crash scene, surrounded by wreckage and disturbed earth. At first blush, the circumstances seem similar to those of the Lion Air crash in Indonesia. In that case, pilots reported difficulties maintaining level flight on their 737 MAX 8 just minutes after takeoff. Soon afterward, the plane took a high-speed, catastrophic dive into the Java Sea. The suggest that an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, may have played a role in that incident. The MCAS system is a safeguard that’s meant to keep the 737 MAX from stalling under extreme aerodynamic conditions, but investigators surmised that the system was getting spurious data from sensors that measure air flow over the wings. Boeing says pilots have a procedure that can quickly resolve such an issue, but that procedure was not followed by the Lion Air pilots. The Lion Air accident focused heightened attention on the MCAS system, raising pilots’ awareness about the control issue and how to resolve it. Records show that the plane involved in today’s crash had its first flight and was added to Ethiopian Airlines’ fleet in . It was among, out of a ordered in 2014. The airline said the plane “underwent a rigorous first check maintenance” in February. In his , Hamilton said investigators are likely to consider a wide range of factors, including the MCAS issue plus mechanical failure, human error, weather conditions and potential sabotage. “It should be noted that Ethiopian is considered one of the best airlines in the world and the best in Africa,” he wrote. “It’s got a good safety record and service is considered very good. This is in contrast to the spotty safety record of Lion Air.” This is an updated version of a report that was first published at 12:47 p.m. PT March 10.
Alaska Airlines says it will take a biofuel fill-up from Boeing when its 737 MAX jets are delivered. (Alaska Airlines Photo) Boeing says it will begin offering airlines and operators the chance to have their jets powered by biofuel when they take off for their new homes, and Seattle-based Alaska Airlines is the first to sign up for the option. The program was unveiled today, in the wake of this week’s t in Seattle. Boeing and Alaska Airlines were among the event’s sponsors. Like the summit, Boeing’s new option is aimed at advancing the use of aviation biofuels, which studies have shown can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80 percent on a typical flight. “This is another step in our decade-long journey to encourage the adoption of sustainable fuels and help commercial aviation earn its license to keep growing,” Sheila Remes, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ vice president of strategy, . “We have great customers such as Alaska Airlines that have made good progress in adopting the use of biofuels. We hope this new option will make it easier for them and others to demonstrate our industry’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions.” The biofuel option will be available for customers accepting new airplanes at Boeing’s delivery centers in Seattle and Everett, Wash. Boeing says it also plans to use biofuels for some of its flight tests at Seattle’s Boeing Field, and is working to offer the option at its South Carolina Delivery Center as well. Alaska Airlines says it will use a blend of biofuel and traditional fuel when it takes delivery of three Boeing 737 MAX airplanes this year. on airline flights, but now the arrangement is going beyond the experimental stage. “We congratulate our partners at Boeing for operationalizing a drop-in sustainable aviation jet fuel option,” said Diana Birkett Rakow, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of external relations. “We’re excited to not only take advantage of the first biofuel delivery, but to continue working together to advance and scale mainstream adoption of sustainable fuel and other practices to enhance the aviation industry’s ability to do good.” Read more: The biofuel will be produced from agricultural waste at refinery in Paramount, Calif., and blended with traditional jet fuel for commercial use. Texas-based, which supported Boeing’s evaluation of biofuels in its ecoDemonstrator flight test program, will ship the biofuel blend to Boeing’s delivery centers. Boeing has worked with partners around the globe to boost the use of sustainable aviation fuel. It supported the first commercial aviation test flight to use biofuel, , and helped get biofuel approved for regular commercial use in 2011. The potential feedstocks for biofuels include forestry and agricultural waste, Brazilian sugar cane, used cooking oil and a variety of plants. One project in which Boeing was involved using seawater-tolerant salicornia plants. The Port of Seattle has set a goal of using biofuel for 10 percent of the jet fuel on airplanes at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by 2028. That could translate into a plan to fuel every plane taking off from Sea-Tac with a 10 percent biofuel blend.