Ethiopian Will Be The Last Airline To Resume 737 MAX Flights

The Boeing 737 MAX may be inching forwards in the process to get it back in the air, but there’s one airline that isn’t planning to start scheduling it in anytime soon. Esayas WoldeMariam, acting Chief Commercial Officer at Ethiopian Airlines, has told Simple Flying that Ethiopian will be the last airline on the planet to fly the type. He says that the airline has been “traumatized” by what happened last year.

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX
Boeing amassed record losses in Q2 of 2019. Photo: LLBG Spotter via Wikimedia

737 MAX must be ‘tried, tested and trusted’

It’s been almost a year and a half since an Ethiopian Boeing 737 MAX crashed on route to Kenya. In a situation that was strikingly similar to that of the Lion Air crash just months before, the pilots had fought with the aircraft before they were overcome by the automated system we now know as MCAS. Nobody survived the accident.

Simple Flying had the opportunity to talk to Esayas WoldeMariam, acting Chief Commercial Officer at Ethiopian Airlines, about his thoughts on the Boeing 737 MAX, and whether there is still a place for it in the African airline’s fleet.

Esayas explained that Ethiopian plans to take a cautious outlook when it comes to the 737 MAX. He said,

“What I can tell you about MAX is that Ethiopian Airlines wants to be the last airline to start flying it, after everybody has.

“After it is tried, tested and trusted, we will be the last one to start flying it because we really value the life of our customers.

“We have been traumatized with what has already happened. So, we would be the last one to start flying it.”

Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX
The airline has been left traumatized by what happened last year. Photo: Getty Images

Although the FAA is pressing ahead with testing and recertification, other regulators wish to undertake their own scrutiny before allowing it to fly. Transport Canada has already begun to examine the aircraft, and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has noted that it wishes to perform its own tests.

In Africa, multiple aviation authorities exist; 37 in all. Ethiopian Airlines’ relevant regulator would be the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority. However, their approval would only permit the type to fly in Ethiopia, and not into other African nations. To date, no African regulator has requested scrutiny of the 737 MAX, so it’s likely the authorities will simply follow the FAA.

Nevertheless, Ethiopian’s stance is clear. The airline may well operate the 737 MAX again, but not until it is 100% certain that it is safe to fly.

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And what about the outstanding order?

At the time of the grounding, Ethiopian operated just four of the type. However, it had pinned its hopes on the 737 MAX for its future narrowbody fleet, with an outstanding order for 27 more aircraft.

Boeing 737 MAX 8 Ethiopian Airlines
27 more of the type await delivery to Ethiopian. Photo: Getty Images

Back in May last year, when the airline was still raw from the fatal accident involving ET302, CEO Tewolde GebreMariam said he didn’t know if it would ever come back into the fleet. He expressed concern that the airline would struggle to convince its pilots and the traveling public to fly it again.

But now, after more than a year of scrutiny and still no firm date for the aircraft to be ungrounded, Ethiopian appears to be taking a more pragmatic approach. Esayas commented,

“Well, depending on if it has a positive comeback, then definitely, after everybody has been assured, we will be taking it. Otherwise, we’ll also look for equivalent narrowbody original, something like the Airbus A220.”

Ethiopian Airlines previously said it hoped to secure compensation for the 737 MAX accident and subsequent grounding of its fleet by July. As yet, no official confirmation of compensation being agreed has been shared.