After days of resisting, Boeing made a recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration Wednesday to temporarily suspend flights of its 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft. Many others, including the European Union, Britain and Canada, had already grounded the plane and barred flights in their airspace.
The decision came three days after an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 crashed and killed all 157 people aboard. The crash had many similarities to an accident involving another Max 8, flown by Indonesia’s Lion Air, in October.
“We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said.
Boeing’s Max series aircraft replaced the 737-800 and made its first commercial flight in 2017. A high-density version of the Max 8, the Max 200, was set to enter service next month. It’s unclear whether the Ethiopian crash will affect its launch. The Max 9, with a longer fuselage, entered service last year. The new planes cost about $50 million each.
Wall Street firms Melius Research and Jefferies estimate the grounding could cost Boeing between $1 billion and $5 billion. The estimates are based on the planes being grounded for three months. Boeing reported a profit of $10.6 billion in 2018.
This isn’t the first time this decade Boeing has faced trouble with a new aircraft model. In 2013, it grounded the new 787 Dreamliner after lithium ion batteries caught fire on multiple flights. With only about 50 Dreamliners in service at the time, however, the impact was smaller.
Wednesday’s decision sent U.S. carriers United, American and Southwest scrambling to replace Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft on their flight schedules. American and Southwest fly the Max 8 and United has Max 9s. American had been flying more than 80 Max 8 flights per day.
Southwest said it plans to operate its schedule with every available airplane in the fleet to meet the changes. The airline won’t charge passengers to change flights within 14 days of the original date of travel.
“We have been constant contact with the FAA and Boeing since Ethiopian Airlines’ accident,” Southwest said in a statement. “While we remain confident in the Max 8 after completing more than 88,000 flight hours accrued over 41,000 flights, we support the actions of the FAA and other regulatory agencies and governments across the globe that have asked for further review of the data — including information from the flight data recorder.”
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said the carrier is working to “minimize disruptions to our customers’ travel plans.”
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