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Boeing jet disaster reaches Australia

Regulator intervenes with temporary aircraft ban.

Senior Digital Journalist, Your Money

Australia has suspended all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to or from Australia after its second deadly crash within six months.

The country’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) said Tuesday evening the ban was temporary as it awaited more information, according to Reuters.

Billions of dollars have so far been wiped off the market value of the world’s biggest plane manufacturer this week following a deadly crash in Ethiopia that killed all 157 people on board over the weekend.

The downed Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft was the same model involved in the Lion Air crash over Indonesian waters just five months ago, which killed 189 people within minutes of takeoff.

Australia joins dozens of countries and airlines to have grounded the Boeing aircraft in response to the latest fatal crash, including Singapore, China, Ethiopian Airways and Aeromexico.

Australian operations

No Australian airlines currently use the model, however authorities had not initially banned the model, which meant foreign airlines could continue to operate them within Australia until Tuesday.

Singapore’s SilkAir, which flies between Singapore and both Darwin and Cairns announced a temporary ban on the model Tuesday afternoon.

However Fiji Airways, which flies the Boeing 737 Max 8 between Nadi and Australia told YourMoney.com.au prior to CASA’s announcement that it would not be halting flights of the aircraft at this stage.

A spokesperson for the airline said earlier Tuesday that it has “full confidence in the airworthiness of our fleet” and a “comprehensive induction and training process” in place for the new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.

Virgin Australia is the only domestic airline that has ordered the new plane.

In a statement Tuesday, the airline said it was still too early to comment on its order of 30 aircraft which are due to be delivered November.

“We believe there is sufficient time to consider the outcome of the investigation and make an assessment,” the statement said.

US aviation authorities have issued a “continued airworthiness notification” for the Boeing 737 model, but aviation expert and journalist Steve Creedy of Airline Ratings told YourMoney.com.au that experts are torn on the matter.

“It’s not as cut and dry as people are trying to make it,” he commented earlier Tuesday.

“I have some people whom I respect saying they should be grounded.”

That includes Jim Hall, a long-running former US National Transportation Safety Board chairman, who Creedy says has called for all models of the aircraft to be suspended.

Despite that, Creedy said it’s too soon to say whether the model should be banned altogether from Australian airspace.

“I don’t think there’s sufficient information at this stage to warrant that. I tend to agree with the US on this… it’s a bit premature to begin grounding planes before you actually know what happened.”

New model

On Tuesday, Boeing confirmed it would be deploying a software upgrade on the 737 Max 8 model, pointing to an ongoing investigation following last year’s Lion Air Flight crash.

The Ethiopian Airlines crash and Lion Air crash have striking parallels, not only because of the model of aircraft, but also because both planes crashed just minutes after takeoff.

The new 737 Max 8 jets are the latest release from Boeing and the airline’s answer to creating a more fuel efficient aircraft.

Boeing changed the plane’s design by raising the nose gear and placing the engine higher and further to the front of the aircraft.

The new design meant Boeing updated the onboard software that is meant to stop the plane from stalling.

However, Creedy said the pilot community is split on whether there had adequate training for the new software.

“Some pilots said we should have been told everything and other pilots have said well, there are procedures in place to handle this kind of incident so it doesn’t really matter.”

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