Almost three years since the fatal accident of one of its Boeing MAX 8s, Ethiopian Airlines plans to bring the aircraft back into service from February 2022. The airline is now confident of the safety of the fleet, CEO Tewolde GebreMariam says in a message on Facebook. Elsewhere, the Indonesian regulators have approved the MAX to return to service. Ethiopian plans to resume MAX services in February.

When Ethiopian flight ET302 crashed six minutes after takeoff from Addis Abeba airport on March 10, 2019, killing 157 occupants, it became clear that there were striking similarities with the Lion Air accident near Jakarta just five months earlier. GebreMariam went to the crash site near the village of Ejere and just found a deep crater and debris where his MAX 8, which was delivered in November 2018, has crashed. The crew, initially blamed even by Boeing for incompetence, had surrendered after trying in vain to fight uncommanded trim input from the now notorious Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) and nose-dived into the ground. The two accidents resulted in the grounding of the MAX and numerous investigations. In November 2020, the FAA and Brazil’s ANAC were the first to approve the return to service if only after extensive modifications and training.  

Ethiopian has stated on numerous occasions that it would be one of the last airlines to bring the MAX back into service, if ever. In his message, GebreMariam refers to this: “In line with our initially stated commitment to become among the last airlines to return the B737 MAX, we have taken enough time to monitor the design modification work and the more than 20 months of rigorous recertification process and we have ensured that our pilots, engineers, aircraft technicians, cabin crew are confident on the safety of the fleet. The airplane model has accumulated more than 275.000 commercial flights since the resumption of B737 MAX operation a year ago.”

Ethiopian has some convincing to do

The airline CEO also says: “Safety is our topmost priority at Ethiopian Airlines and it guides every decision we make and all actions we take. It is in line with this guiding principle that we are now returning the B737 MAX to service not only after the recertification by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), EASA of Europe, Transport Canada, CAAC, ECAA, and other regulatory bodies but also after the return to service by more than 34 airlines around the world.”

While Ethiopian has now regained confidence in the MAX, the carrier has some serious work to do to convince the flying public. Many Ethiopians have stated never to fly the type again. GebreMariam acknowledges this problem in his statement: “Ethiopian Airlines has put in place a rigorous and comprehensive processes to ensure that every plane in the sky is safe. In the next month, we will update the traveling public on further details and progresses. We always prioritize customers’ safety and I am confident that our customers will enjoy onboard safety and comfort that we have been known for.”

Ethiopian had received five MAX 8s until the crash in March 2019, with another 25 on order. In January, Boeing agreed to pay Ethiopian and Lion Air $2.5 billion in compensation over both accidents to avoid future criminal prosecution. In November, the airframer and the families of the 157 victims of flight ET302 reached a settlement in a civil case. Boeing acknowledged its liability for damages and families dismissed further allegations against the airframer, although some are still considering a trial.

Indonesia approves return to service

The Indonesian Ministry of Transport lifted the grounding of the MAX 8 today on December 27. All Indonesian operators are allowed to operate the type in Indonesian airspace again but only after demonstrating that the aircraft meets the specifications laid out in an amended Airworthiness Directive and copied from AD’s from other agencies. These include changes to the hardware and software of certain systems, including the Flight Control Computer and the Angle of Attack-system. The Lion Air accident in October 2018 killed 189 occupants. Lion Air and Garuda are the only airlines with MAX aircraft in Indonesia.

Earlier in December, the Chinese regulatory agency CAAC lifted the ban of the MAX. The first aircraft could return to service this week but also only after meeting specific requirements.

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Richard Schuurman
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Active as journalist since 1987, starting with regional newspaper Zwolse Courant. Grand Prix reporter in 1997 at Dutch monthly Formule 1, general reporter Lelystad/Flevoland at De Stentor/Dagblad Flevoland, from 2002 until June 2021 radio/tv reporter/presentor with Omroep Flevoland.
Since mid-2016 freelance aviation journalist, since June 2021 fully dedicated to aviation. Reporter/editor AirInsight since December 2018. Contributor to Airliner World, Piloot & Vliegtuig. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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