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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 March 2019

Boeing 737 Max 8: what passengers need to know

As investigators continue to probe the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 wreckage, here is what you need to know if you’re travelling soon

A Westjet Boeing 737 Max-8 takes to the skies last year. Courtesy Ken Fielding
A Westjet Boeing 737 Max-8 takes to the skies last year. Courtesy Ken Fielding

On Sunday, March 10, 157 people on an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 flight bound for Kenya died when the jet went down just six minutes after take-off.

It was the second fatal incident for a Boeing 737 Max 8 in less than six months, following a Lion Air crash in October last year that saw 189 people killed when the aircraft nosedived into the ground in Indonesia.

With two incidents in such a short space of time involving two brand-new planes, concerns are being raised over the aircraft’s safety.

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane has now been banned from dozens of countries, including the UAE.

What is the official advice?

Right now, there are conflicting opinions over what this second fatal incident means. In China, civil aviation authorities have ordered the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max aircraft until further investigation has been completed, citing "certain similarities" between the two crashes.

Ethiopian Airlines and Cayman Airways have also grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8 flights, as has Royal Air Maroc.

In the United States, where the jets are manufactured, the Federal Aviation Administration is closely monitoring developments into the crash investigation, but has yet to make any further announcements.

Several other airlines, including American Airlines and regional carrier flydubai, have stated they do not intend to ground any aircraft. A spokesperson for flydubai told The National: “We remain confident in the airworthiness of our fleet. The safety of our passengers and crew is our first priority.”

What is the Boeing 737 Max 8?

The Boeing 737 Max is the fourth generation of the Boeing 737. It’s now Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft and is flown by more than 60 airlines around the world. There are already more than 350 of the aircraft in operation, with 4,661 total orders waiting to be fulfilled. The first delivery of the Boeing 737 Max 8 was in May 2017.

While travellers with upcoming journeys on a Boeing 737 Max 8 may be concerned about the safety of the aircraft, it’s important to note that investigations into the cause of the Ethiopian Airlines crash are still ongoing and no announcements have been made in terms of the aircraft's safety.

Where is the blame being laid?

With investigations still ongoing, it’s too early to lay the blame for the crash at Boeing’s door. Aircraft mechanical error, pilot error and weather are the most frequent causes of plane crashes around the world. Five months after the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, we still don’t have all the answers as to what happened, although initial reports have suggested problems with the new anti-stall system introduced by Boeing to its 737 Max 8 flights. It could be a long time before inquiries at the Addis Ababa crash site bring any definite answers as to the cause of the crash. However, the flights share a number of similarities. Both planes crashed minutes after takeoff, they both struggled to gain altitude and, like the Lion Air aircraft, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 appears to have ascended and descended several times before entering its final nose dive, six minutes into the flight. Experts stress the need to wait for an official cause before coming to any conclusions. Two black boxes have been recovered from the crash site, which should contain some answers.

What is the anti-stall system’s purpose?

It is supposed to help pilots from accidentally raising the plane’s nose too high, which can cause the aircraft to stall. But it appears it may, in certain cases, have the ability to push it down so sharply pilots struggle to control the plane. Investigators believe this may occur as a result of faulty sensor readings.

Which airlines fly Boeing 737 Max?

Primarily used for short- and medium-haul flights, the Boeing 737 Max is Boeing’s most popular craft, which means that it is flown by multiple airlines around the world. Flydubai, Royal Air Maroc, Ryanair, Jet Airways and Turkish Airlines all have Maxes in their fleet.

How many Boeing 737 Max 8 planes are in use in the UAE?

Flydubai is the only airline in the UAE to operate the Boeing 737 MAX. It said on Tuesday it would follow the GCAA directive banning its use in UAE skies and will ground both the MAX 8 and MAX 9 models. “Flydubai is adjusting its schedule to minimize disruption to passengers and will operate flights with its fleet of next-generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Where there are flight cancellations, flydubai will contact passengers directly,” the carrier said in a statement.

Will I be flying on a 737 Max?

If you’ve got a trip coming up or are looking to book travel and want to know what plane you’ll be flying on, you can get this information from your airline. If you’ve already booked your tickets, your confirmation notification will have the type of aircraft used, usually next to the information on whether you’re flying economy, business or first class.

If you’re still in the booking process, Google Flights lists what type of aircraft a flight will operate on and the majority of airline booking sites will reveal this information before you make a purchase.

Seatguru.com is another good way to check what type of aircraft you are set to fly on; just input your destination, flight number and airline to get more information.

Updated: March 13, 2019 12:30 PM

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