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Boeing crashes cause carnage for high flyer

A popular saying among air travellers for decades was “if it ain’t Boeing, I’m not going” but that motto has long been retired as the aircraft giant continues to battle the fallout of devastating plane crashes.

The unexplained loss of a China Eastern 737-800NG and its 132 passengers is the latest in a nightmare three years that has left one of Wall Street’s high flyers battered and bruised with a full recovery years away.

Just prior to the loss of the second 737 MAX in March 2019, Boeing’s stock was soaring at $US440 ($587) but the MAX grounding, and COVID sent the stock diving to $US162 early last year.

Since then the stock has struggled to gain altitude to $US186 as 787 production quality issues surfaced as well as long delays in the certification of its giant 777X.

Adding to the woes has been the inability to compete with Airbus’s fast selling 220-240 seat A321XLR model which outperforms the biggest and latest 737 model, the MAX 10.

New York-based Bernstein Research, the world’s leading aerospace analyst, said before the China Eastern crash that Boeing was “back” after it posted its full-year results for calendar 2021.

Boeing’s revenue for 2021 was $US62.3 billion, which was up 7 per cent on the prior year.

There have been 23 fatal 737NG crashes since it was introduced in 1997 most of which can be attributed to causes such as pilot error.
Camera IconThere have been 23 fatal 737NG crashes since it was introduced in 1997 most of which can be attributed to causes such as pilot error.

Credit: Lu Boan/AP

Bernstein had forecast that this year Boeing’s revenue would leap 34 per cent to $US83b and it would have a net income of $US3.66b with a target share price of $US259.

The Ukraine invasion and the sanctions on Russia have added more negative dynamics to the world’s biggest aerospace company, with Bernstein lowering its stock target to $US235.

The flip side of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that Boeing will likely get more orders for its wide range of military aircraft, missiles and defence systems.

Nonetheless, at first glance the China Eastern tragedy is another blot on Boeing’s battered reputation.

The recovery of the cockpit voice recorder will hopefully shed light on what caused the 737-800NG (Next Generation) — the workhorse of the world’s airlines — to crash.

Boeing has built and delivered just over 7000 737NGs across four models with the 800 the most popular.

The 737-800NG is the backbone of the Qantas, Virgin Australia and Rex domestic jet fleets and has given flawless service over 22 years.

Its safety globally is outstanding and it is the world’s most reliable commercial jet.

There have been 23 fatal 737NG crashes since it was introduced in 1997 most of which can be attributed to causes such as pilot error, typically on short runways, and one was shot down in Tehran.

The 737NG series has a fatal accident rate of 0.09 per one million departures compared with the 747-400’s of 0.57.

The 737 dates back to the mid-60s with the first delivery to Lufthansa in 1968. Since then Boeing has upgraded the design three times and taken orders for 15,099 and delivered 10,926. With 1200 in service, the 737NG is a pivotal plane in the Chinese domestic airline market.

Whatever happened aboard China Eastern flight MU5735 was catastrophic and sudden.

One possibility is that this 737 may have previously been involved in a tail strike incident on landing or take-off and the damage done to the aft pressure bulkhead was not noticed or not repaired properly causing it to fail, damaging the tail.

The aft bulkhead along with the forward pressure bulkhead at the front of the cockpit seals the pressurised fuselage.

The most tragic case of an aft pressure bulkhead failure was the loss of a Japan Air Lines domestic 747 in 1985, which killed 520 of the 524 aboard.

Video of the China Eastern 737-800NG just before impact appears to show that the vertical tail is missing.

Muddying the waters is the proliferation of fake images on the internet purporting to be the China Eastern 737 in its dive. Crash investigators from China, the US and France will be involved in the investigation which may take months to resolve what conspired to end 132 lives.

For Boeing it could be an agonising wait.

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