Ethiopian, whose 737 Max aircraft crashed a few minutes after takeoff from the Addis Ababa International Airport en route to Nairobi on March 10, has 25 Max 8s on order. The largest African airline, the carrier took delivery of its first Max in June 2018, and grounded its current fleet of four in the aftermath of the accident.
Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said that a decision on whether or not to continue taking deliveries of the Max will depend on the solution Boeing finally submits. “Boeing is in the final stage of software upgrade and better training so it will take it to the FAA for certification and we will see if the FAA certifies it,” Gebremariam told AIN. “Then we will also monitor the reaction of the global aviation regulators like the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), China, and Canada aviation regulatory bodies. And then we will not definitely be the first one to return the airplane back to the air. We will definitely be the last one. Our decision follows those developments. Right now our decision is to wait and see the progress of Boeing’s solution and also the certification by the FAA. We will also see the global aviation community’s reaction.”
Gebremariam hinted that the MCAS software upgrade on which Boeing is working could restore his confidence in the airplane. He said that Ethiopian Airlines, which has been a long-time customer of Boeing, continues to express confidence in the company. “We still believe in Boeing,” he said. “We believe in the FAA. Boeing is more than 100 years old; [it is] a successful engineering company with high standards of quality.
“We also have strong confidence in the FAA,” continued Gebremariam. “We hope that they will go through a rigorous recertification process. But again, since one of the two fatal accidents occurred with our airline, we will be seriously considering our analysis.”
Gebremariam noted that Ethiopian’s decision to perform its own analysis of the solutions formulated by the FAA and Boeing had to do with building internal confidence. “We need to build confidence in our service, in our pilots, and in our traveling public to make sure that the airplane is safe to be back to the air,” he added.
The Ethiopian Airlines CEO professed no regrets about choosing the Max over the Airbus A320neo. “We do not regret our decision to order the 737-8 Max aircraft because it was the right one,” Gebremariam said. “The Boeing 737 Max is a very good airplane–its performance, economics, and maintenance [commonality]. For us since we have been operating the 737-800NG fleet [and] transferring to the Max instead of acquiring the A320neo was less costly,” he added.
As Ethiopian operates in its quiet season, it has not yet leased aircraft to replace the grounded Max fleet. “Fortunately it is a slack season so we are managing with the existing fleet,” said Gebremariam. “As you know we have more than 110 aircraft. But going forward in the summer if the Max is not returning to flight then we will consider leasing additional aircraft.”