Indonesia's Transportation Ministry has grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes temporarily for inspection. (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal)

Are Boeing 737 Max 8 Planes Safe? Indonesia Takes No Chance and Ground Them All


MARCH 11, 2019

Jakarta. For Indonesia, Sunday's (10/03) fatal Ethiopian Air crash hit too close to home.

The country lost one of its citizens in the fatal crash that claimed 157 lives in the weeekend. Worryingly, the crashed aircraft is the exact same model used on Lion Air Flight 610 that perished in the Java Sea last October: a Boeing 737 Max 8.  

Today, Indonesia's Transportation Ministry made the extraordinary decision to ground all Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes in Indonesia temporarily for inspection. 

"This policy was taken to ensure that all aircraft operating in Indonesia are in flight-worthy conditions. This is to guarantee flight safety in Indonesia," Polana Pramesti, the director general of air transport at the Transportation Ministry, said in a statement on Monday.

Indonesia followed in the footsteps of China, which had already asked its domestic airlines to stop operating the aircraft temporarily.

Cayman Air has also voluntarily grounded the only Boeing 737 Max 8 that it has in operation.   

There are 11 of the aircraft operating in Indonesia, 10 of which are part of Lion Air's fleet. The other plane is operated by flag-carrier Garuda Indonesia. 

M. Ikhsan Rosan, Garuda's corporate secretary, said the airline has complied with the ministerial order and grounded its 737 Max 8 for an indeterminate period. 

"Garuda Indonesia also understands passenger concerns. The airline remains extra vigilant in monitoring its flight operations," Ikhsan said.

Edy Kurnia Djati, the coordinator of a team of aviation safety activists who call themselves Indonesia's Flight Security and Safety Advocacy Team (TAKKP), welcomes the government and Garuda's decision, saying it was crucial "to ensure the safety of Indonesian airline passengers." 

While the exact details are still to be revealed, the circumstances of Ethiopian Air ET302's short flight were eerily reminiscent to the doomed Lion Air flight four months ago. 

The Boeing 737 Max 8 plane took off at 8:38 a.m. local time from Addis Ababa, heading for Nairobi, Kenya. Minutes later the pilot reported technical problems and asked for permission to turn back, but the flight never arrived. It crashed at 8:44 a.m., 50 kilometers south of the Ethiopian capital, killing all on board.

Among them is Harina Hafitz, an Indonesian who worked for the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN’s food assistance branch.

World Food Programme director David Beasley confirmed that seven of his staff died in the crash. They were Ekta Adhikari from Nepal, Maria Pilar Buzzetti and Virginia Chimenti from Italy, Zhen Zhen Huang from China, Michael Ryan from Ireland, Djordje Vdovic from Serbia, and Harina. 19 UN-affiliated staff members were also among the victims.

“We will do all that is humanly possible to help the families at this painful time. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers,” he said in a statement.

With fleets in China and Indonesia grounded, about a third of Boeing's delivered 737 Max 8 are now out of operation, an unprecedented situation that has hurt the company's image badly. The company's shares are on track to fall more than 12 percent on Monday.

"Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 Max 8 airplane," the company wrote in a statement on Sunday.

"We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team. A Boeing technical team will be traveling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and US National Transportation Safety Board," Boeing said.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the authority is reaching out to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing to get information that might help it improve the safety of the airplane. 

"We will continue to take steps to improve, starting from operational procedures and additional training, as well as following airworthiness directives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)," Polana from the transportation ministry said. 

Lion Air's Max 8 crashed into the Java Sea in October 13 minutes after take-off from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta. The crash took the lives of all 189 passengers on board.

Writing by Christian Lee