US lawmakers have said Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 and 9 planes will be grounded for weeks if not longer until a software upgrade can be tested and installed, as officials in France prepare to begin analysing the black boxes from a jet that crashed in Ethiopia.
Boeing said it had paused deliveries of its fastest-selling 737 MAX aircraft built at its factory near Seattle but continues to produce its single-aisle jets at full speed while dealing with the worldwide fleet’s grounding.
Investigators in France will be seeking clues into Sunday’s deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash after take-off from Addis Ababa killed 157 people from 35 nations in the second such calamity involving Boeing’s plane since October.
Possible links between the accidents have rocked the aviation industry, scared passengers, and left the world’s biggest planemaker scrambling to prove the safety of a money-spinning model intended to be the standard for decades.
US Representative Rick Larsen said after a briefing with US aviation officials the software upgrade would take a few weeks to complete, and installing it on all aircraft would take “at least through April.” He said additional training would also have to take place.
Relatives of the dead stormed out of a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday, decrying a lack of transparency, while others made the painful trip to the crash scene.
“I can’t find you! Where are you?” said one Ethiopian woman, draped in traditional white mourning shawl, as she held a framed portrait of her brother in the charred and debris-strewn field.
After an apparent tussle over where the investigation should be held, the flight data and cockpit voice recorders were handed over to France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA).
Technical analysis would begin on Friday and the first conclusions could take several days, the BEA said, posting a picture of the partly crumpled, orange-cased box.
Nations around the world, including an initially reluctant United States, have suspended the 371 MAX models in operation, though airlines are largely coping by switching planes.
Nearly 5,000 MAXs are on order, meaning the financial implications are huge for the industry.
Boeing would maintain its production rate of 52 aircraft per month, and its newest version, the MAX, represents the lion’s share.
The investigation of Sunday’s crash has added urgency since the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday grounded the 737 MAX aircraft, citing satellite data and evidence from the scene that indicated some similarities and “the possibility of a shared cause” with October’s crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people.
Though it maintains the planes are safe, Boeing has supported the FAA move.
Its stock is down about 11 per cent since the crash, wiping more than $US26 billion off its market value.
And in what may presage a raft of claims, Norwegian Air has said it will seek compensation from Boeing for costs and lost revenue after grounding its fleet of 737 MAX.
Japan became the latest nation to suspend the 737 MAX planes on Thursday. Airline Garuda Indonesia said there was a possibility it would cancel its 20-strong order of 737 MAXs.