Ethiopian Airlines flew passengers on a Boeing 737 MAX plane on Tuesday for the first time since the crash nearly three years ago killed all 157 people on board and triggered the global grounding of the aircraft.
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.
The accidents exposed a problem with a system on the plane, and the model was grounded worldwide, costing Boeing some $20 billion and prompting court cases that exposed shortcomings with the certification process.
Tuesday’s demonstration flight had journalists, diplomats and officials on board and was initially scheduled to reach neighbouring Kenya but remained within Ethiopia due to poor weather, officials on board said.
While airborne, acting Chief Executive Officer Esayas Woldemariam told reporters that commercial flights would resume after the demonstration.
“We made sure everything is in order, now we are doing…a demo flight so to speak. It is after this that we are availing it to commercial aviation,” acting Chief Executive Officer Esayas Woldemariam.
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 on January 22 Ethiopian Airlines said the decision to resume flights came “after intense recertification” by multiple regulatory bodies.
Ethiopia is among the last countries to return the 737 MAX to service; it is already flying in the United States, Europe, China, Australia, Japan and Indonesia.
“We have taken enough time to monitor the design modification work and the more than 20 months of rigorous rectification process … our pilots, engineers, aircraft technicians, cabin crew are confident of the safety of the fleet,” the airline’s CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said in a December statement.