Amid wait for Ethiopian Airlines crash data, carrier asks Boeing to cancel MAX 8 order
the_guitar_mann/iStock(NEW YORK) — In the latest blow to the world’s biggest commercial airline manufacturer, a flagship carrier in Indonesia is asking Boeing if it can cancel a nearly $5 billion order of 737 MAX 8 planes because of lack of consumer trust in the jetliner.
Garuda Indonesia, the nation’s government-backed airline, ordered nearly 50 Boeing 737 MAX 8s in 2014, striking a deal with Boeing for $4.9 billion. Outright cancelling the deal would carry a high cost for Garuda but the airline hopes to negogitate with Boeing for a switch to a different model aircraft.
The airline’s passengers have “lost trust and no longer have the confidence” in the Boeing MAX 8, spokesman Julius Caesar Samosir said.
“We have been engaged with all 737 MAX operators and we are continuing to schedule meetings to share information about our plans for supporting the 737 MAX fleet,” Boeing said in response.
Garuda Indonesia, which carries tens of millions of passengers a year across Asia, Australia and Europe, has battled safety concerns of its own. Along with all other Indonesian airlines, Garuda was banned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from flying to the U.S. for about nine years after a series of crashes beginning in the early 2000s. Garuda and other Indonesian airlines’ upgraded safety status, granted in 2016, allowed it to establish service to the U.S.
At the time Garuda and Boeing announced the deal in 2014, Dinesh Keskar, the senior vice president of Asia Pacific and India Sales for Boeing, called it a representation of trust.
“This order demonstrates Garuda’s trust in Boeing and a strong commitment to operate the most fuel-efficient single-aisle airplanes in the market today and in the future,” Keskar said then.
The request to cancel the order comes as Boeing prepared to roll out a software fix as early as next week to address concerns with the company’s controversial anti-stall system. Pilots will begin training on the new software this weekend, according to Boeing, and it will require FAA certification. The planes are still grounded worldwide and expected to remain grounded for weeks to come.
It’s still unknown whether the anti-stall system contributed to the crash in Ethiopia more than two weeks ago, which killed all 157 people on board. Black boxes from Flight 302 containing critical information from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders were analyzed in France last week and sent back to Ethiopia, but no readout on the information has been released over the five days since then.
Tom Haueter, a former National Transportation Security Board investigator and ABC News contributor, called the lack of information “incredible given the time that’s passed.”
“The flight data recorder should have been sent to read out of almost immediately point being found. The data should have been provided quickly,” Haueter said.
The wait for details also comes on the heels of reports that both the Ethiopian Airlines and the Lion Air planes that crashed in the last six months reportedly did not have two add-on safety features offered by Boeing for a price — despite a potentially life-saving purpose of further indicating to pilots when the anti-stall system was working off of bad data and activating an unnecessary nose dive.
One such feature indicates the angle of the jet and another sets off a warning light if sensors disagree.
According to Boeing, the disagree light will be a standard feature in the coming software update. The company also plans to program its flight-control systems to use two sensors, instead of one point of data, before engaging the anti-stall system.
“All Boeing airplanes are certified and delivered to the highest levels of safety consistent with industry standards. Airplanes are delivered with a baseline configuration, which includes a standard set of flight deck displays and alerts, crew procedures and training materials that meet industry safety norms and most customer requirements. Customers may choose additional options, such as alerts and indications, to customize their airplanes to support their individual operations or requirements,” Boeing said in a statement Friday.
Of the U.S. airlines that carry Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets in their fleets, Southwest and American Airlines both paid for the safety features. United Airlines did not, instead saying their pilots were well-trained to shut off the anti-stall systems if it engaged incorrectly.
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