Ethiopian Airlines to resume 737 MAX flights with 2019 crash wounds still fresh

Ethiopian Airlines is set Tuesday to operate the Boeing 737 MAX for the first time since a crash nearly three years ago killed all 157 people on board and triggered the global grounding of the aircraft.

An Ethiopean Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 (front) parked at Bole International airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 04 April 2019. Ethiopian civil aviation have grounded all their Boeing Max 8 planes. Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302 carrying 149 passengers and 8 crew was en route to Nairobi, Kenya, when it crashed on 10 March 2019. All passengers and crew aboard died in the crash. The Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft has come under scrutiny after similar deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia within a few months. World airlines have grounded their 737 Max 8 planes for safety concerns after the Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed minutes after take-off Ethiopian Airlines is set Tuesday to operate the Boeing 737 MAX for the first time since a crash nearly three years ago. EPA-EFE/STR

Flight 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi plunged six minutes after takeoff into a field southeast of the Ethiopian capital in March 2019, five months after a similar crash in Indonesia left 189 people dead.

The twin disasters and subsequent scrutiny of the 737 MAX’s faulty flight handling system – known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) – amounted to the worst crisis in Boeing’s history.

State-owned Ethiopian Airlines, the jewel of the economy of Africa’s second most populous country, had long said it would be the last carrier to use the single-aisle jets again.

In a statement to AFP, the airline said the decision to resume 737 MAX flights came after “intense recertification” by regulators in the United States, the European Union, China and Ethiopia.

A first passenger flight will take place on Tuesday, the airline has said, without giving details.

‘FULLY PREPARED’ 

The airline, which had four of the jets in its fleet at the time of the crash, provided a list of 35 other carriers that are also now flying them.

“Our pilots, engineers, aircraft technicians, and cabin crew are fully prepared to take the B737 MAX back to the skies and we look forward to welcoming you on board,” its statement said.

The decision to wait as long as it did before flying the 737 MAX again was “really commendable”, said Yeshiwas Fentahun, who was president of Ethiopia’s independent pilots’ association in 2019 but is no longer with the company.

The loss of the flight crew – including its youngest captain, Yared Getachew – was traumatic for all employees, he said.

“There were pilots who were close to the people who lost their lives in the accident, and it’s really hard to say if everyone has moved past that experience,” he said.

“But I believe it’s a reasonable time for most of us to move past that experience.”

The victims of the Flight 302 crash, the worst in Ethiopia’s history, hailed from more than 30 countries.

In this file photo taken on March 16, 2019 An Oromo man hired to assist forensic investigators walks by a pile of twisted airplane debris at the crash site of an Ethiopian airways operated Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Hama Quntushele village near Bishoftu in Oromia region. – A French investigation into the March 10 Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX crash that killed 157 passengers and crew opened on March 15 as US aerospace giant Boeing stopped delivering the top-selling aircraft. Photo: TONY KARUMBA / AFP

Boeing has reached an agreement with the victims’ families and accepted responsibility for the crash, according to legal documents filed in November in Chicago, where the company is headquartered.

The proposed agreement did not mention specific sums, as jurors will be responsible for assessing amounts.

By Robbie COREY-BOULET

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