China suspends commercial operations of Boeing 737-8 planes

Michael Tewelde | AFP | Getty Images

A man carries a piece of debris on his head at the crash site of a Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines flight near Bishoftu, a town some 60 kilometers southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 10, 2019.

China’s civil aviation regulator said on Monday that it has asked domestic airlines to suspend the commercial operations of all Boeing 737-8 planes by 6:00 p.m. local time (1000 GMT), a day after a deadly crash of a 737 MAX 8 by Ethiopian Airlines.

An Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 bound for Nairobi crashed minutes after take-off on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board.

It was the second crash of the 737 MAX, the latest version of Boeing’s workhorse narrowbody jet that first entered service in 2017.

In October, a 737 MAX flown by Indonesian budget carrier Lion Air flying from Jakarta on a domestic flight crashed 13 minutes after take-off, killing all 189 passengers and crew on board.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in a statement it would notify airlines as to when they could resume flying the jets after contacting Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to ensure flight safety.

“Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing 737-8 planes and happened during take-off phase, they have some degree of similarity,” the CAAC said, adding that the order was in line with its principle of zero-tolerance on safety harzards.

The cause of the Indonesian crash is still being investigated. A preliminary report issued in November, before the cockpit voice recorder was recovered, focused on airline maintenance and training and the response of a Boeing anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor but did not give a reason for the crash.

Chinese airlines have 96 737 MAX jets in service, the state company regulator said on Weibo.

Caijing, a Chinese state-run news outlet that covers finance and economics, said many flights scheduled to use 737 MAX planes would instead use the 737-800 models.

A Boeing spokesman declined to comment.

A U.S. official told Reuters the United States was unsure of what information China was acting on.

The U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said there were no plans to follow suit given the 737 MAX had a stellar safety record in the United States and there was a lack of information about the cause of the Ethiopian crash.

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Ethiopian Airlines: What do we know about Boeing 737 Max-8?Chinese carriers, Ethiopian Airlines suspend use of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft after crash