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Boeing 737 MAX grounded: Are regional airlines stuck on the tarmac?

The Ethiopian Airlines crash has sparked an investigation into Boeing's recent 737 MAX 8 model, which has been at the centre of 2 crashes so far.

Several countries around the world have already grounded the 737 MAX aircraft flydubai is the 2nd biggest customer of 737 MAX aircraft in the world, and 1st in the Middle East Boeing stock value dropped 11.11% since last Friday

This past Sunday, March 10th, brought news of a tragedy that occurred in Ethiopia. An Ethiopian Airline jet had crashed a mere 6 minutes into its flight, in a manner eerily similar to a previous tragedy that involved a Lion Air flight back in October last year.

In reality, both incidents are linked: they both involved Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

Could the Boeing 737 MAX 8 have a design flaw?

At the moment, there is a lot of chatter around what caused the Ethiopian Airline crash, and an investigation is ongoing. According to a CNN interview with the company’s CEO Tewolde GebreMariam, the pilots of the plane reported “flight control problems” to air traffic control.

What’s on everyone’s mind, however, is that something has gone horribly wrong with this Boeing model, as the two fatal incidents occurred a mere 6 months apart. Given that this is still a relatively new aircraft, questions have begun to pop up surrounding its airworthiness.

“Given in both air crashes, the aircrafts were newly delivered Boeing 737 MAX 8, and both accidents occurred during the takeoff, they share certain similarities,” the Chinese aviation administration said in a statement Monday, as reported by CNN.

Regional impact

All across the world, the 737 MAX 8 and the other models in this series are being banned from entering airspace, with plenty of planes that have already been grounded. The European Union, India, New Zealand, and plenty of other countries joined this list.

As for the Middle East, the UAE, Oman, Lebanon and others have all followed suit.

“The impact [regionally] is limited since the 737MAX fleet in the GCC is so small. Coupled with the fact that operators are still using existing aeroplanes like the 737-800 at flydubai and Oman Air, there is enough capacity to absorb demand,” Saj Ahmad, Chief Analyst at StrategicAero Research, said in a statement to AMEinfo.

flydubai is the 2nd biggest 737 MAX customer in the world, and the 1st in the region, having placed an order for 225 units of this model range back in 2017. This week, they announced that have grounded their fleet of 737 MAX 8s and 737 MAX 9s.

Despite the controversy surrounding the model and its history up to this point, “it is highly unlikely that flydubai will either cancel or defer orders,” Ahmad said. “The costs would be immense and equally, the airline wouldn’t exactly be able to knock on Airbus’ door and get new airplanes any faster.”

According to Ahmad, flydubai have received 13 737 MAX units so far, so their overall service should not be affected.

“Schedules for airlines build in provisions for either airplanes stranded due to technical issues etc, so there will be ample buffer in flydubai’s scheduling to cycle the existing 737-800 fleet to compensate.”

Elsewhere in the UAE, Sharjah-based Air Arabia had been mulling a 737 MAX order last year, expecting to make a decision this year. Given all that’s transpired with Boeing and its aircraft, Air Arabia might give Boeing a pass on this model range.

Still, when AMEinfo asked Ahmad if it is too risky to commit to a 737 MAX order at this point, he said: “If Air Arabia selected the MAX, and by the time they got their first sample, any checks/updates will have been incorporated to ensure the safety of the airplane family.”

Generally, Ahmad doesn’t foresee a “knee-jerk reaction from any MAX customer in the short-to-medium term.”

“Boeing was already working on a major software fix in the wake of the Lion Air crash, which is due to be released next month – so airlines will be more confident that these grounding will be very temporary,” he continued.

Boeing is in an unenviable position, though

Upcoming fix or not, as it currently stands, Boeing is not having the greatest of times. Ever since the crash, their stock value has dropped 11.11% from $422.42 to $375.47 as of this writing.

Still, Ahmad believes it’ll make it through.

“Boeing recovered from the far more serious battery fires on the 787 which was grounded for a quarter of a year,” he noted.

It is worthy of note that unlike the rest of the world, the United States and Canada have not grounded any 737 MAX jets, maintaining faith in the US-manufactured aircraft. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not called for any grounding of the planes either.

“The updated software fix for the 737MAX is all but ready to be issued to airlines – and there are less than 400 airplanes in service so far,” Ahmad said. “To that end, Boeing will instil confidence once these measures are rolled out.”

“The key thing is that [some] other airlines and the FAA haven’t grounded the 737 MAX – and not one of the agencies that have grounded it has provided any technical information as to why it should be.”