On March 10, a jetliner with passengers from at least 35 countries crashed shortly after leaving Ethiopia’s capital, killing all 157 people on board. Just five months earlier in October 2018, a jetliner carrying 189 people from Jakarta crashed into the Java Sea, killing everyone on board. The primary cause of concern over these two crashes is that both involved the brand-new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, both of which had been placed into service only months before the crashes. Now, nervous fliers everywhere are concerned about the airworthiness of this airplane and how it might affect their future air travel plans. Here’s what we know so far.
While the cause of the Lion Air crash in Indonesia is still under investigation, it is clear that pilots had a very difficult time maintaining the planes proper altitude. To compensate for the larger engines on the Boeing 737 MAX 8, Boeing added a computerized system called MCAS to prevent the plane’s nose from getting too high and causing a stall. Faulty sensor data may have instead caused the system to keep pushing the nose down, possibly leading to the crash of lion air flight 610. The crash has raised questions about whether Boeing played down or overlooked, largely for cost and competitive reasons, the potential dangers of keeping pilots uninformed about changes to a critical element of the plane’s software.
In the case of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, the plane took off in good weather, but its vertical speed became unstable right after takeoff, fluctuating wildly, according to data published by FlightRadar24 on Twitter. In the first three minutes of flight, the vertical speed varied from zero feet per minute per hour to 1,472 to minus 1,920 — unusual during ascent. The investigation into this crash is only just beginning, and both of the flight data and voice recorders have been recovered.
There are only two US airlines that fly the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft — American Airlines (24 planes) and Southwest Airlines (34 planes). Neither airline has any plans to ground its 737 MAX 8 aircraft, and both airlines have expressed confidence in the airworthiness of these planes. Other well-known airlines that will continue to fly them include Norwegian Airlines, TUI, Silk Air, Fiji Airways, Icelandair, Fly Dubai, and WestJet. However, several other international airlines have grounded their 737 MAX airplanes, Including Ethiopian Airlines, Cayman Airways, and airlines in China and Indonesia. There are currently over 350 737 MAX 8 aircraft in service and about 5,000 more are on order from Boeing.
There is currently no evidence to show that the two crashes are linked or have similarities. However, that doesn’t mean that fleers shouldn’t be concerned at all. As a nervous flier myself, the first thing I did was find out what type of aircraft I will be flying on domestically over the next several months. If you would like to find out what aircraft you will be flying on, please use SeatGuru and have your airline and dates of travel handy. If you are booking air travel on any of the airlines still flying the 737 MAX 8 and you are concerned enough to avoid this aircraft, you should be able to determine what model aircraft each flight uses during the reservation process.
This being said, there are over 350 of these aircraft in service right now, and these are only two incidents. However, I would like to provide the tools for you to remain informed and make decisions on your own with regards to booking air travel in light of these crashes. The final results of the investigation into both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes may not be known for a year or more. Please contact the airline directly if you have any concerns about plane changes or the future use of this aircraft associated with your travel plans.