Early Sunday morning an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX crashed shortly after takeoff, making it the second 737 MAX to crash during the initial phase of flight in the past several months (a Lion Air 737 MAX crashed after takeoff last October).
What do two crashes mean for the 737 MAX?
As I addressed in a follow-up post, at this point a lot of people are concerned about the 737 MAX, as there are a lot more questions than answers. We don’t know for sure if there’s anything actually wrong with the plane, or if there’s anything wrong with the way pilots are trained to fly the plane. And if either of those are the case, we don’t know what exactly the problem is.
We do know that modern aviation is incredibly safe, so to have two of the same (brand new) planes crash just months apart is highly unusual.
The last thing anyone wants to see is a tragedy like this happen again. As a result, we’re seeing an increasing number of airlines and aviation authorities temporarily ground the plane until we find out more.
So let’s take a look at where things stand, and then I plan to update this post as there’s more to report.
Which airlines fly the 737 MAX?
Currently, there are 387 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in operation, 74 of which are operated by US airlines. These planes are operated by a total of 59 airlines.
Here are the airlines that fly the 737 MAX, along with how many of the planes they had delivered to them:
- Aerolineas Argentinas (9)
- Aeromexico (5)
- Air Canada (20)
- Air China (14)
- Air Italy (5)
- American (20)
- Cayman (2)
- China Eastern (13)
- China Southern (16)
- Comair (1)
- Copa (5)
- Corendon (1)
- Eastar Jet (2)
- Enter Air (2)
- Ethiopian Airlines (5)
- Fiji Airways (2)
- FlyDubai (14)
- Fuzhou (2)
- Garuda Indonesia (1)
- Gol (6)
- Hainan (7)
- Icelandair (3)
- Jet Airways (6)
- Kunming (2)
- Lion Air (14)
- LOT Polish (5)
- Lucky Air (3)
- Mauritania Airlines (1)
- MIAT Mongolian (1)
- Norwegian (18)
- Okay Airways (1)
- Oman Air (5)
- Royal Air Maroc (2)
- Shandong (6)
- Shanghai Airlines (11)
- Shenzhen (5)
- SilkAir (5)
- Southwest (31)
- SpiceJet (7)
- Sunwing (3)
- S7 (2)
- Thai Lion (3)
- TUI (11)
- Turkish (7)
- United (12)
- WestJet (12)
- Xiamen (9)
Note that in some cases the numbers may be a bit off, or inconsistent. This is because I consolidated the numbers from airlines with multiple business units (like Norwegian), and also in some cases, there’s a discrepancy between how many planes an airline has taken delivery of, and how many they’re actually flying.
Which airlines & countries have grounded the 737 MAX?
With the above in mind, we’re seeing quite a few 737 MAX aircraft grounded, though it’s happening in different ways. In some cases we’re seeing airlines voluntarily ground the planes, to err on the side of caution. In other cases, we’re seeing aviation authorities ground the plane.
When aviation authorities ground the plane, it either applies to all flights to that country, or in some cases just applies to airlines from the home country.
So, with that in mind, where is the 737 MAX grounded?
Which countries have grounded the 737 MAX?
- Australia (no airlines are allowed to operate the plane to & from Australia, impacting Fiji Airways and SilkAir)
- China (no domestic airlines are allowed to operate the plane, impacting Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Fuzhou, Hainan, Kunming, Lucky Air, Shandong, Shanghai Airlines, Shenzhen, and Xiamen Air)
- Indonesia (no domestic airlines are allowed to operate the plane, impacting Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air)
- Malaysia (no airlines are allowed to operate the plane to & from Malaysia)
- Mongolia (no domestic airlines are allowed to operate the plane, impacting MIAT Mongolian)
- Oman (no airlines are allowed to operate the plane to & from Oman, impacting Oman Air)
- Singapore (no airlines are allowed to operate the plane to & from Singapore, impacting SilkAir)
- South Korea (no domestic airlines are allowed to operate the plane, impacting Eastar Jet)
- United Kingdom (no airlines are allowed to operate the plane to & from the UK, impacting Norwegian and TUI)
Which airlines have grounded the 737 MAX?
In addition to the above, the following airlines have voluntarily grounded their 737 MAX aircraft:
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Cayman Airways
- Royal Air Maroc
What is the US Federal Aviation Administration saying?
Late last night the US Federal Aviation Administration issued a continued airworthiness notification for the 737 MAX. This essentially says that the FAA is supporting the current investigation. As they explain:
All data will be closely examined during this investigation, and the FAA will take appropriate action if the data 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. However, this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions.
They go on to talk about the ongoing oversight activities by the FAA, and what they learned from the Lion Air crash.
This suggests to me that the FAA doesn’t plan on changing its stance and grounding the plane as a precaution, but rather would only do so if they learn something new.
At this point, I think the only way the 737 MAX will be grounded in the US is if there’s sufficient public pressure (either from the media, from passengers, or from crews). I’ll be curious to see if that happens. Arguably the government shutdown was ended due to issues with air traffic control staffing, so it doesn’t seem that unreasonable.
If my math is right, at this point about half of 737 MAX aircraft are grounded. Air Canada, American, Southwest, and WestJet continue to fly their 737 MAX aircraft, which represents nearly 100 of the planes.
I’m curious to see how this unfolds. Air crash investigations can take months (if not years):
- Will the airlines that haven’t grounded the plane continue to let the plane fly without knowing more?
- Will the airlines that have grounded the plane really keep it grounded for months and months? Without more information I hope they do, and putting safety over profit is the right thing to do, but often businesses get swayed to make decisions that are in their short-term financial interests
If there are any airlines or authorities I missed, please let me know, and I’ll try to keep the list updated.