After two deadly disasters in five months, can Boeing survive?
The global grounding of its bestselling model after 346 deaths has created a genuine crisis for the company and its clients
Within three minutes of takeoff, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 had accelerated to unusually high speeds. Captain Yared Getachew knew something was wrong as the aircraft, a Boeing 737 Max 8, erratically dipped and climbed by hundreds of feet. He radioed air traffic control, requesting a return to Addis Ababa airport.
He was cleared to return and the aircraft began to turn right, climbing even higher. A minute later, flight 302 disappeared from the radar.
All 157 people on board were killed as the plane crashed 30 miles south-east of the airport, approximately six minutes into its two-hour flight to Nairobi. It was the second fatal accident involving a Boeing 737 Max 8 in five months, following the crash last October of a Lion Air flight in Indonesia with the loss of 189 lives.
Suspicion over the cause of both crashes is centred on the planes new flight control system MCAS, or Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System which can intervene to push the planes nose down automatically when it rises.
On Wednesday, Boeing said it was suspending operations of the entire global fleet of 371 aircraft, after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed a temporary ban on the model. Dozens of countries had already imposed bans earlier in the week. The fleet will be grounded until Boeing installs a software update for the jets flight systems, which could happen before the end of the month, according to one report last week.
As Boeing scrambles to fix one of its most significant products, there are questions now over the impact on the worlds most renowned aerospace group. The crashes are devastating for Boeing because the 737 has been a staple of its roster for more than 50 years. It is the companys bestseller and a short-haul workhorse. The new version, the Max, is more fuel-efficient than previous models and has clocked up $600bn (450bn) worth of orders. Its a very important aircraft to Boeing, with 5,000 orders placed, said John Strickland, an aviation analyst.
Its likely to be a tough few months for the Chicago-based manufacturer, with regulatory issues, legal claims and the threat of cancelled orders piling up. Last Sundays crash hit shares hard as soon as markets opened on Monday, and wiped $25bn from its value over the course of last week.