Air Crash

Comair chooses not to ground its Boeing 737 Max 8

Comair chooses not to ground its Boeing 737 Max 8
Wreckage lies at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 en route to Nairobi, Kenya, near Bishoftu, Ethiopia, 10 March 2019. All passengers onboard the scheduled flight ET 302 carrying 149 passengers and 8 crew members, have died, the airlines says. EPA-EFE/STR

Following the crash of Ethiopian Airline’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 on March 10 and the subsequent grounding of all Chinese Boeings, South African airline Comair – which encompasses Kulula and British Airway – has decided to keep its aircraft in the air.

The ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed shortly after take-off on Sunday, 10 March killing all 149 people on board, had flown out of Johannesburg from OR Tambo International Airport the day before.

According to Flightrader 24, an internet-based service that shows real-time commercial aircraft flight information on a map, the Ethiopian Airlines plane travelled from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Addis Ababa in the late hours of Saturday, 9 March. On Sunday morning it left from Addis Ababa for Nairobi but six minutes into the flight it crashed.

Playback of the Nairobi flight on Flightrader shows that its altitude increases and decreases erratically minutes after takeoff. The craft reached its peak altitude right before flying over mountainous terrain and then dramatically descended. Minutes later the plane’s tracking was lost. There were 149 passengers on board flight ET302 as well as eight crew members on their way to Nairobi, Kenya.

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes are relatively new to the market, having only been introduced in 2017, with the first commercial flight taking place on May 22, 2017. This is the second fatal crash involving the Boeing 737 MAX 8. On 29 October 2017, a Lion Air  Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia. The Lion Air flight crashed 13 minutes after takeoff, killing 189 people.

The real concern here is that there are similarities between the Ethiopian Crash and the Lion Air Crash,” says Guy Leitch, editor and publisher of SA Flyer Magazine.

On 11 March the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) released a statement ordering all Chinese airlines to ground their Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets.

Given that two accidents both involved newly-delivered Boeing 737-8 planes and happened during take-off phase, they have some degree of similarity…(suspending operation) is in line with our principle of zero tolerance for safety hazards and strict control of safety risks,” said CAAC.

Despite global concern over safety, South African airline Comair released a statement on 11 March saying that the airline will continue to operate the Boeing 737-8 it received and launched in February 2019.

Our highly trained and experienced flight crew and engineers remain vigilant. If we receive information that requires us to reassess the situation, please be assured we will take appropriate action in the interests of the safety of our staff and customers,” the airline’s press release reads.

But social media has already picked up on the event, with users posting information on how to change scheduled flights on Boeing 737 MAX 8s as well as lists of airlines that use the aircraft.

It certainly seems prudent that in the absence of information as to exactly what caused this crash for airlines to completely review their operations with 737 MAXs and if they have the capacity it makes sense for them to ground the aircraft provisionally,” says Leitch.

According to the spokesperson for the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) Kabel Ledwaba, the organisation is engaging all affected stakeholders.

We reassure all concerned that we are closely monitoring the situation and will take a decision once more information becomes available,” Ledwaba told Daily Maverick.

Boeing released a preliminary report on the investigation into the Lion Air crash on 27 November and will send a technical team to the Ethiopian crash site. DM


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