US finally grounds Boeing 737 Max aircraft amid growing safety concerns

Boeing 737 Max 8 passenger planes sit on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport after the US grounded the aircraft following safety concerns. (Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 14 March 2019
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US finally grounds Boeing 737 Max aircraft amid growing safety concerns

  • US authorities said new evidence showed similarities between Sunday’s deadly crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 and a fatal accident in Indonesia in October

WASHINGTON: The ban on the Boeing 737 Max aircraft became worldwide on Wednesday after US President Donald Trump joined Canada and other countries in grounding the aircraft amid mounting global fears for the jets’ airworthiness.
US authorities said new evidence showed similarities between Sunday’s deadly crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 and a fatal accident in Indonesia in October.
The Federal Aviation Administration said findings from the crash site near Addis Ababa and “newly refined satellite data” warranted “further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents.”
An FAA emergency order grounded 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft until further notice.
Trump told reporters at the White House the “safety of the American people and all peoples is our paramount concern.”
Mexico late Wednesday suspended Max 8 and 9 operations, after Canada and Chile also joined the long list of countries to ban the plane from flying in their airspaces. Many airlines have voluntarily taken it out of service. Brazil, Costa Rica and Panama followed suit.

The airlines and countries that have grounded the Boeing 737 Max aircraft so far:

Ethiopia said it would send the black boxes from Flight ET 302 to France for analysis, which could provide crucial information about what happened.
“Hopefully they will come up with an answer but until they do the planes are grounded,” Trump said.
FAA acting chief Daniel Elwell said the agency has been “working tirelessly” to find the cause of the accident but faced delays because the black box flight data recorders had been damaged.
The new information shows “the track of that airplane was close enough to the track of the Lion Air flight ... to warrant the grounding of the airplanes so we could get more information from the black boxes and determine if there’s a link between the two, and if there is, find a fix to that link,” Elwell said on CNBC.
Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg said he supported the US decision “out of an abundance of caution” but continued to have “full confidence” in the safety of the plane.
The company continues its efforts “to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again,” Muilenburg said in a statement.
The accounts of the recent crashes were echoed in concerns registered by US pilots on how the Max 8 behaves.
At least four American pilots made reports following the Lion Air crash, all complaining the aircraft suddenly pitched downward shortly after takeoff, according to documents reviewed by AFP on the Aviation Safety Reporting System, a voluntary incident database maintained by NASA.
In two anonymous reports on flights just after the Lion Air crash, pilots disconnected the autopilot and corrected the plane’s trajectory.
One said the flight crew reviewed the incident “at length... but can’t think of any reason the aircraft would pitch nose-down so aggressively.”
It was unclear if US transportation authorities review the database or investigate the incidents. However, the FAA said this week it had mandated that Boeing update its flight software and training on the aircraft.
Questions about the Lion Air crash have honed in on an automated stall prevention system, the MCAS, designed to automatically point the nose of the plane downward if it is in danger of stalling.
According to the flight data recorder, the pilots of Lion Air Flight 610 struggled to control the aircraft as the MCAS repeatedly pushed the plane’s nose down following takeoff.
The Ethiopian Airlines pilots reported similar difficulties before their aircraft plunged into the ground as they tried to return to the airport.
Boeing was criticized after the Lion Air crash for allegedly failing to adequately inform 737 pilots about the functioning of the stall prevention system.
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam on Sunday said the captain on the flight, Yared Mulugeta Getachew, 29, was an experienced aviator with more than 8,000 flight hours.
Andrew Hunter, a defense industry expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that, while Boeing and the FAA had good track records on addressing safety concerns, sometimes the combination of automated systems and humans did not work smoothly.
“It is hard to get a system to work seamlessly with human beings,” he told AFP.
“The fact the system was fighting the pilot was not an unintended consequence,” because it should counteract a pilot error and correcting this is “challenging.”
In Ethiopia, distraught families wept and lit candles as they visited the deep black crater where the plane smashed into a field, killing 157 passengers and crew, an AFP correspondent said.
The Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 was less than four months old when it went down six minutes into a flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi on Sunday, disintegrating on impact.
Families of the victims from Kenya, China, the United States and Canada, as well as diplomatic staff from embassies, were visiting the crash site.
A dozen airlines have grounded the plane, while Nigeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Serbia, Vietnam, New Zealand and Hong Kong on Wednesday also joined the list of countries to ban it from their airspace.
The European Union and major hubs such as the United Arab Emirates and Australia had already done so.
American Airlines said it had 24 aircraft affected by the US ban, while Southwest Airlines said it was still confirming the move.
The Max series is Boeing’s fastest-selling model.
There are 74 of the planes registered in the United States, and 387 in use worldwide with 59 carriers, according to the FAA.
Low-cost airline Norwegian Air Shuttle has said it would demand financial compensation from Boeing as the implications of the mass grounding for the airline industry remained unclear.
Shares in the company rose Wednesday on Wall Street despite the US order but were still down 10.6 percent since before Sunday’s crash.


China’s Xi promotes building initiative amid debt worries

Updated 26 April 2019
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China’s Xi promotes building initiative amid debt worries

  • Xi says Beijing wants “open, green and clean cooperation” with “zero tolerance for corruption”
  • High costs have prompted complaints some are falling into a “debt trap”
BEIJING: President Xi Jinping has promised to set high standards for China’s Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative, seeking to dispel complaints the many billion dollars in projects leave developing countries with too much debt.
Xi avoided mentioning debt complaints in a speech opening a forum attended by leaders from some three dozen countries to celebrate his signature foreign initiative. But he said Beijing wants “open, green and clean cooperation” with “zero tolerance for corruption.”
Developing countries welcome the initiative to expand trade by building roads, ports and other facilities across Asia and Africa to Europe. But high costs have prompted complaints some are falling into a “debt trap.”
The United States, Russia, Japan and India also worry Beijing is trying to build a trade and political network centered on China and expand its strategic influence at their expense.
Xi’s government is trying to revive the initiative’s momentum after the number of new projects plunged last year. That came after Chinese officials said state-owned banks would step up scrutiny of borrowers and some governments complained projects do too little for their economies and might give Beijing too much political sway.
Countries including Malaysia and Thailand have canceled or scaled back projects while Ethiopia and others have renegotiated debt repayment.
Xi noted China’s finance ministry on Thursday issued guidelines for assessing debt risks for borrowers. The ministry said those “debt sustainability guidelines” are based on the standards of the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions.
The president tried to allay complaints about lack of economic benefits and political influence, saying Belt and Road is “not an exclusive club” and promotes “common development and prosperity.”
“We need to pursue open, green and clean cooperation,” Xi said. “Everything should be done in a transparent way and we should have zero tolerance for corruption.”
His audience at a Beijing conference center included Prime Ministers Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, Lee Hsien-Loong of Singapore and Adiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and leaders or envoys from Greece, Serbia and Malaysia.
Xi said Beijing also wants to expand the scope of its initiative by encouraging cooperation among Belt and Road countries on health, water resources, agriculture and science and technology. He promised to fund scholarships for students from Belt and Road countries.