China’s aviation regulator has just grounded nearly 100 Boeing Co 737 MAX 8 aircraft operated by its airlines, more than a quarter of the global fleet of the jets, following a deadly crash of one of the planes in Ethiopia.
An Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 bound for Nairobi crashed minutes after take-off on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board.
It was the second crash of the 737 MAX 8, the latest version of Boeing’s workhorse narrowbody jet that first entered service in 2017.
In October, a 737 MAX 8 operated by Indonesian budget carrier Lion Air crashed 13 minutes after take-off from Jakarta on a domestic flight, killing all 189 passengers and crew on board.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said all Chinese airlines had to suspend their use of the 737 MAX 8 by 6 p.m. (1000 GMT).
The aircraft is the latest version of Boeing’s workhorse narrowbody that entered service in 2017.
The CAAC said it would notify airlines as to when they could resume flying the jets after contacting Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure flight safety.
“Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing 737-8 planes and happened during take-off phase, they have some degree of similarity,” the CAAC said, adding that the order was in line with its principle of zero-tolerance on safety hazards. The 737 MAX 8 is sometimes referred to as the 737-8.
A Boeing spokesman declined to comment.
Chinese airlines have 96 737 MAX 8 jets in service, the state company regulator said on Weibo, including Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airlines.
Chinese aviation data firm Variflight said at least 29 international and domestic flights on Monday had been cancelled and that airlines had swapped out the plane on 256 other flights that had been scheduled to use it.
China Eastern’s chairman, Liu Shaoyong, told financial publication Caixin on the sidelines of a parliament meeting in Beijing that it would only consider resuming 737 MAX 8 flights once Boeing issued a safety commitment for the jets and proved that there was no aircraft design link between the two crashes.
The cause of the Indonesian crash is still being investigated. A preliminary report in November, before the cockpit voice recorder was recovered, focused on airline maintenance and training and the response of a Boeing anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor but did not give a reason for the crash.
Ethiopian Airlines said it had grounded its 737 MAX 8 fleet until further notice as an “extra safety precaution” even though it did not know the cause of Sunday’s crash.
The airline has a remaining fleet of four of the aircraft, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
Cayman Airways said it had grounded both of its new 737 MAX 8 jets until it got more information.
But no other airlines said they were grounding their 737 MAX 8 aircraft. By the end of January, Boeing had delivered 350 of the 737 MAX family jets to customers, with another 4,661 on order.
This article is fact-checked.
Miebaka is a seasoned journalist with years of experience. His vast work in Africa keeps him as one of the front line journalists in the region.