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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 March 2019

Ethiopian airlines crash is a truly global tragedy

The world grieves with the families of the 157 victims

Ethiopian police standing near wreckage from Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302, which crashed south-east of Addis Ababa. Reuters
Ethiopian police standing near wreckage from Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302, which crashed south-east of Addis Ababa. Reuters

With 30 nationalities and 14 UN workers on board, the Ethiopian Airlines plane from Addis Ababa to Nairobi that crashed on Sunday, killing all 157 passengers, was a symbol of a connected world. This is, therefore, a truly global tragedy. But it is important that this disaster does not colour perceptions of Ethiopian Airlines – or the nation itself. As Africa’s biggest and most successful carrier, the company is a source of national pride. Addis Ababa airport recently overtook Dubai to become the largest feeder of air traffic to Africa, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made opening up and expanding the airline a central plank of his electoral mandate. Ethiopian Airlines is on course to become a five-star carrier, capable of connecting an entire continent. One of the main factors that has traditionally held Africa back is the dearth of transport and trade links between its nations. Ethiopian Airlines provides smooth, quick travel for millions of people and its reputation should not be called into question without good reason.

While deadly accidents and the resulting grief of family members rightly draw international attention, it must be noted that air travel is extremely safe. The aviation industry is also very good at diagnosing accidents and responding appropriately. The plane’s black box flight recorder, which has now been found, will bring back those who perished in this disaster, but it will hold vital information that will help to significantly reduce the chances of a similar accident occurring again.

While it is too early to apportion blame, it is clear that the aeroplane manufacturer Boeing must face serious questions. The company’s 737 Max 8, which went down six minutes after take-off, was just a month old. And this is the second plane of its kind to crash in just five months, after a Lion Air flight went down near Jakarta last October, killing 189 people. Two deadly crashes involving the same model of plane happening in such quick succession is unprecedented in recent aviation history. This could do great reputational damage to Boeing, particularly given that the 737 Max range represents approximately two-thirds of the company’s future deliveries and an estimated 40 per cent of its profits. Ethiopian airlines and a host of Chinese carriers have grounded their 737s as a safety precaution. However, a number of carriers count Boeing 737s among their fleets, and have not reported any problems at all.

A “full and timely” investigation, launched yesterday by Mr Ahmed, will hopefully reach a speedy conclusion. Meanwhile the world joins the leaders of the UAE, Ethiopia, Kenya and Canada, reflecting on the many lives lost and offering sincere condolences to the families of the victims.

Updated: March 11, 2019 07:08 PM

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