[UPDATE, March 14, 2019: The Trump administration grounded Max 8 and Max 9 jets.]
[CORRECTION, March 13, 2019: The aircraft affected by WorldAware’s recommendation and directives from aviation authorities are Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 models, not the entire Max series. This article has been adjusted with the correct information.]
Leading travel risk management firm WorldAware is recommending that people avoid Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft for the time being.
Civilian aviation authorities in the United Kingdom, European Union and elsewhere ordered airlines not to fly the planes in their airspaces after Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has made no such move. Some airlines grounded their Boeing Max fleets but others, including American and Southwest, continue to fly the Max 8. A Lion Air flight using the same model crashed in October.
“We are recommending that travelers strongly consider avoid flying on Max aircraft until we know if the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes are linked,” WorldAware senior transportation analyst Max Leitschuh said Tuesday. “That applies to Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft. It does not apply to Boeing 737-800s or 737-900s, which are different planes.”
WorldAware founder Bruce McIndoe said the purpose of the recommendation was to “err on the side of safety.”
Leitschuh said WorldAware was “not in the business of telling companies what they must or must not do. We issue recommendations and they take into account their own risk thresholds.”
Leitschuh said the groundings by authorities and airlines outside the United States may cause sporadic cancellations and delays but not widespread disruption. Of 7,000 Boeing 737s in service around the world, just 350 or so are Max 8s and Max 9s. He said most affected operators have large enough fleets to cover flights with other aircraft types.
McIndoe heard questions from corporate travel managers on Tuesday. For example, while travelers often know in advance what aircraft type is assigned to their flight, what if there is a switch and they realize they’d be on a Max 8 or Max 9 plane? “It is a personal decision,” he said, “but it impacts ticket usage, rebooking costs, etc.”
Both Leitschuh and McIndoe said they would not fly on Max 8 or Max 9 aircraft right now.
“The endpoint will come soon,” Leitschuh said, noting that Ethiopian authorities have data recorders from the crashed jet in their hands. If their report does not list a “flight control issue” as a contributing factor, akin to the Lion Air crash, he expects all directives and voluntary groundings to be lifted. If it does cite a flight control issue, Leitschuh said to expect all Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft to be grounded worldwide until Boeing finds a solution.
Airline unions, congressional leaders and others have asked FAA to ground the planes. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) tweeted: “Memo to FAA: Grounding all Boeing Max 8s during fact-finding is your job. It’s mandatory safety and common sense. Failing to protect fliers will create a crisis of confidence.”
On Monday, FAA said it would “take appropriate action” if the ongoing investigation “indicates the need to do so.”
“External reports are drawing similarities between this accident and the Lion Air Flight 610 accident on October 29, 2018,” according to FAA. “However, this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions.”
On Tuesday, Boeing issued a statement conveying “full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max.”
Southwest Airlines agreed to be the launch customer for the Boeing 737 Max 8 in 2011. It took delivery of its first in October 2017. As of Dec. 31 Southwest had 31 of the aircraft in its fleet, while American Airlines owned or leased 20 and WestJet operated 11. According to their websites, Air Canada operates 24 and Norwegian operates 18.
There are 387 Boeing 737-8 and 737-9 aircraft registered today to 59 operators worldwide, including 74 operated by U.S. carriers, according to FAA.
“The most important practical effect of the U.K. banning is that it has led Norwegian to ground its fleet of 737 Max 8 aircraft,” according to a subscriber message from Joe Brancatelli of JoeSentMe, a site for business travelers. “That will impact some U.S. flights. Aeromexico has grounded its fleet, as have two South American carriers (Gol and Aerolineas Argentinas). United Airlines operates the Boeing 737 Max 9, not the Max 8. Other variations of the Boeing 737 — including the 737-800 and 737NG series — are literally, mechanically and emotionally different aircraft. On an average week, about 8,500 flights have been operated with the Boeing 737 Max 8 without incident. That number, however, will drop substantially as about half of the 300 or so aircraft have now been grounded as a result of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.”
• Max Pax Policies Common, Not Universal
• International SOS Adds Air Safety Ratings
• WorldAware (Formerly iJet) Releases Incident App, Acquires Mass Notifications Service
• What’s The ROI Of Travel Risk Management?
• Providers Pivot And Partner In Travel Risk Mgmt.