China Grounds 737 MAX Aircraft
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 from Addis Ababa (ADD) to Nairobi, Kenya (NBO) crashed shortly after takeoff Sunday, killing all 157 passengers and crew on board. This was the second crash involving a 737 MAX aircraft in the last few months, and it bears a striking resemblance to the Lion Air crash that killed 189 people in October. Not only were both flights operated by relatively new 737 MAX aircraft, but both crashes occurred shortly after takeoff after the pilots failed to maintain a steady climb. In both cases, weather did not appear to play a role, suggesting the existence of other contributing factors.
Now, Beijing has asked Chinese airlines to ground all 737 MAX aircraft, according to Chinese news organization Caijing. There are currently about 75 737 MAX aircraft in service in China, operated by a number of airlines including Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Shanghai Airlines, Xiamen Air, Shandong Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines. China Southern is currently the largest Chinese operator of the next-gen 737 MAX aircraft, with 24 in its fleet -- including 4 leased aircraft -- and a total of 50 on order.
The directive has already gone into effect, and currently there are no 737 MAXs flying in China. On many prominent routes, airlines are swapping in older 737 aircraft to operate these flights. China Southern Flight 353 from Guangzhou (CAN) to Singapore (SIN) has been operated almost exclusively by a 737 MAX 8, but today it was operated by a 737-800 instead.
With no indication of how long this order could last, airlines are already adjusting their schedules moving forward. Shanghai Airlines Flight 9374 from Shanghai (SHA) to Xiamen (XMN) has switched from a 737 MAX to a 737-800 for the foreseeable future.
Grounding this many planes is sure to lead to a large number of flight delays and cancellations and overall travel disruptions. If you're scheduled to fly on a Chinese-operated 737 MAX in the near future, make sure to keep an eye on your flight status.
This directive to ground all Boeing 737 MAXs comes while China is working on growing its own aerospace engineering industry. China recently began test flights on the C919, a ~170-seat single-aisle aircraft meant to compete directly with the 737 and Airbus A320. This would represent the first Chinese-designed and produced aircraft, and a serious threat to Boeing and Airbus' duopoly in the single-aisle jet market.
It's worth noting that Cayman Airways has also announced that it will suspend all of its 737 MAX operations, and it's likely that other airlines and countries will follow suit in the coming days and weeks pending a full investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines crash and a safety review of the plane's design and operating procedures.
For more information, read what industry experts have to say about whether or not the Boeing 737 MAX is safe to fly. Plus TPG‘s full coverage of the Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crash and aftermath: